RALEIGH, N.C. - After taking the last week off for final exams, the NC State men's basketball team knocked off some hints of rust in a 65-60 victory over North Carolina Central on Sunday, in the second of three games this season at Reynolds Coliseum.
Playing in his 100th career game, senior swingman C.J. Williams scored 14 first-half points en route to a career-high 21 points, as the Wolfpack men kicked off a basketball doubleheader in Reynolds Coliseum. The Wolfpack women followed with a game against Alabama.
With Williams contributing seven early points, State opened a 9-0 lead to start the game and never led by fewer than eight points the rest of the half. But the contest turned out to be the closest in this recently started series between Triangle neighbors, as the Eagles twice pulled within three points in the game's final two minutes on deep 3-pointers by Ray Willis.
Williams, who hit eight of nine shots at the foul line, calmed the nerves of the Reynolds crowd by hitting a pair of free throws with 35.9 seconds to play and junior Scott Wood added four more in the final 13.3 seconds to secure the Pack's fourth all-time win over the Eagles. State had won the previous three contests by an average margin of 27 points.
For Williams, it's the third time this season he's set or matched his career high. The senior from Fayetteville, N.C., established a new high of 18 in the season opener against UNC Asheville and matched it in last Sunday's loss at Stanford.
"I had a career high, but all I am really thinking about is how badly I played down the stretch," Williams said. "We let them get back in the game. We have to close out better than that down the stretch.
"I think we got a little cautious. We have lost a couple of games like that down the stretch and we didn't want it to happen again. But we have to get over the mindset of playing not to lose."
Wood contributed 19 points on five 3-pointers and four free throws, while junior forward Richard Howell added 11 points and eight rebounds.
The Pack (6-3 overall) played strong defense in the opening half, holding the Eagles to just 37.9 percent shooting in the first half. But both sophomore. C.J. Leslie and Howell were in early foul trouble and spent significant chunks of time on the bench.
Central, playing its second entry in a seven-game road trip, clawed back within striking distance late in the second half, thanks to Willis' shooting. His 3-pointer with 5:30 remaining closed the gap to 56-51 and the game was close the rest of the way.
"We are excited to get the win, but we feel like we could have played a lot better," first-year head coach Mark Gottfried. "They were loose and they came in here and played well.
"We played a little tentative and you can't play like that. You have to come out and keep attacking."
Willis led the way for the Eagles (5-5) with a team-high 17 points.
The Wolfpack will now have another week off before its next game, a 6:30 p.m. matchup with No. 3 Syracuse at the RBC Center on Saturday. It's the first of three games in a six-day span, including a trip to St. Bonaventure on Dec. 20 and a home game against Northeastern on Dec. 22.
"It should be a lot of fun," Gottfried said.