NC State coach Sidney Lowe got just what he wanted in the Wolfpack’s final non-conference game of the season: a comfortable lead from start to finish.
The Wolfpack (11-3) never trailed Wednesday night in a 54-29 victory over North Carolina Central at the RBC Center, earning its seventh consecutive win by holding the Eagles to just 20 percent shooting from the field for the game.
Sophomore Brandon Costner led the way with 18 points and seven rebounds, while freshman J.J. Hickson added 13 points and eight rebounds. As a team, however, the Wolfpack struggled to put points on the board, hitting just 36.4 percent of its shots overall and making just four of 21 attempts from 3-point range.
That doesn’t so much worry Lowe, whose team led 27-18 at the half. That lead was never in jeopardy, even as the Wolfpack went more than eight minutes in the second half without a field goal.
“From a defensive standpoint, I thought we were very good,” the coach said. “In the first half, they got some offensive rebounds and had some put-backs that hurt us, but I thought for the most part, we played well defensively.
“They played their zone defense and stuck to it. They were not going to let us throw the ball inside. Our guys had to try to make some shots from the outside and we didn’t do it. Thank God our defense was solid.”
What most concerns Lowe, however, is his team’s dwindling depth. Junior guard Courtney Fells injured his right foot with 4:35 remaining in the first half. Fells, who did not score in the contest, was diagnosed with a sprained ankle. He was taken for X-rays after the game, but those game back negative for broken bones.
The Wolfpack – already playing without starting point guard Farnold Degand, who is out for the rest of the season with a torn knee ligament – played its second consecutive game without sophomore Dennis Horner, who suffered a high ankle sprain in practice last week. His status for Saturday’s game against top-ranked North Carolina will be determined later this week, Lowe said.
“Depth is a concern, with the injuries we have right now,” said Lowe. “We came into the season with a lot of people, where we could go nine or 10 deep, but our rotations are getting a little shorter now. That is my biggest concern. I am not really concerned about our shooting, as long as we keep our defense solid.”
But Fells and Horner were certainly missed against the Eagles, who stayed tightly packed into a zone defense, keeping the ball out of the hands of the Wolfpack’s big men. State’s guards made just one of 15 shots from 3-point range, with forward Costner hitting on three of six.
Lowe did take the opportunity to insert reserves Trevor Ferguson, Simon Harris and Tracy Smith for a little more game experience as his team gets ready to finish with 16 straight conference games.
The Wolfpack begins its conference slate with back-to-back road games, beginning Saturday at noon against the top-ranked Tar Heels. It then travels to Clemson Jan. 15 for a 7 p.m. contest at Littlejohn Coliseum.
The game against North Carolina is a rematch of last year’s ACC Tournament championship game. The Tar Heels won that game, 89-80, at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla.
“I feel like we have enough talent and enough experience to come away with a win,” said Costner, who scored 30 points in the title game. “I think we have played enough teams that trap and press and are fast like they are. We are going to come in and work on a few things in practice and get ready to go over there.”
The Pack’s next home game will be an 8 p.m. contest on Jan. 19 against Miami.