In what has become an all to familiar trend for NC State, the Wolfpack had to rally against a lesser opponent to pick up a victory, its 10th of the season.
Trailing by four at the break, NC State rallied in the final 20 minutes Wednesday, scoring 50 second-half points on its way to an 87-72 victory in front of an NC State friendly crowd in Greensboro.
Freshmen CJ Leslie and Ryan Harrow led the way for NC State, scoring 19 and 18 points, respectively. Leslie's dunk with 17:50 left in the second half gave NC State its first lead and was the only lead change the entire night.
"The three freshmen they did a great job tonight and they are continuing to grow," head coach Sidney Lowe said following the win. "With each game it's going to be a learning curve for them."
In his first start since Nov. 18 against ECU, Tracy Smith scored 15 points and pulled down six rebounds in 27 minutes. Smith said he's felt stiffness in his surgically repaired knee since returning to the court but no pain.
After playing 25 minutes in Sunday's victory against San Diego, Wednesday's performance was another step forward for Smith in getting healthy before ACC play begins.
"It's stiff but that's what happens with your knee," he said. "I'm just getting my wind back, my conditioning -- getting back in shape."
Elon made 6 of 12 three-pointers in the first 20 minutes and all 11 of its free throw attempts on its way to a 41-37 lead at the break. Despite shooting 60 percent from the field, NC State had no answer for Elon's torrid start.
Scott Wood, who finished with 13 points, said NC State was "awful" during the first ten minutes of the game. Freshman guard Ryan Harrow agreed, saying NC State was not ready defensively at the beginning of the game.
"We take plays off," Harrow said. "That's what we have to get better at."
While NC State had all sorts of problems stopping Elon in the first half, the Wolfpack played much better in the second half, outscoring the Phoenix by 19. The Pack shot 64 percent from the field and made 15 of its 18 free throw attempts to pull away late, stretching its lead to 15 with less than a minute to play on free throws by Harrow.
NC State's defense also improved, as Elon shot just 30 percent in the second half. Lowe said the Pack's defensive intensity -- which led to several fastbreak opportunities -- was key to the second half run.
"I thought we did a good job -- especially in the seance half -- defensively. Being able to hold this team under 30 percent shooting that's a great job," he said. "We did a better job of concentrating and not giving them as many looks as we did in the first half."
The Wolfpack return home Saturday at 2:30 p.m. to open up conference play against Wake Forest.