After having up and down performances throughout its non-conference schedule, the ACC opener against Wake Forest -- the first home ACC opener in Sidney Lowe's tenure -- became an extremely important test for the Wolfpack.
Consider the first test passed.
NC State (11-4, 1-0) put together one of its most complete performances of the season against Wake Forest, building a 10-point halftime lead before blowing the Deacons (7-9, 0-1) away in the second half to win going away, 90-69. Against an outmatched Wake Forest team, NC State did just what is should at home -- take a lead and build on it.
The Wolfpack scored 50 second half points in its second straight game and shot a blistering 58 percent, taking its 10-point halftime lead to as much as 29 with 2 minutes left to play. The Wolfpack finished the game 51 percent from the field and hit 5 of 10 three-pointers. State also improved its somewhat inconsistent free throw shooting, finishing the game 17 of 19 from the charity stripe.
Head coach Sidney Lowe said he was glad to see his team -- and particularly his young players -- reap the benefits of playing good basketball for 40 minutes.
"It's very important. Its the initiation for a lot of our young guys to this type of play and its important that we did it at home, that's great," he said. "We know they all aren't going to be that big of a margin but it was great that they saw that we can play that way."
State dominated Wake Forest inside, out-rebounding the Deacons 47-22 and scoring 46 points in the paint to Wake Forest's 24. Lowe said NC State's plan to go inside and execution once it got there was key.
"We put strong emphasis on it. We wanted to play inside out," he said. "The guys carried that out pretty good. Our guys did a era nice job of setting screens and moving without the basketball. We were very active."
In his second start since returning from knee surgery, senior forward Tracy Smith scored a season-high 23 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Smith's 23 points were also a career-high in ACC play.
"It makes a great difference. He's our main guy inside that we go to and our guys are very comfortable having him in there," Lowe said of Smith's presence inside. "He can settle us down. When things are getting a little rattled we can always call a set to get the ball in his hands."
There were few times Saturday when NC State looked rattled, but Smith made his presence known nonetheless. For Smith, Saturday's win was big for NC State's confidence moving forward.
"The guys gained the confidence off this game and feel like they are ready to play in the ACC," he said. "We continue to get better – the young guys continue to learn and we have to help them as seniors, me and Javi. We can be the best team in the ACC."
Junior guard C.J. Williams recorded the most productive game of his career, scoring 16 points and grabbing seven rebounds off the bench. C.J. Leslie (19) and Scott Wood (11) also scored in double figures for the Pack, who scored 90 points for the first time since Jan. 2. 2007 against UNC-Greensboro.
"I talked to Coach Strickland before the game and he felt like I was pressing a little bit," Williams said following his career night. "He said let the game come to me. He told me to still be aggressive and the way I took it was to still cut aggressively but not take the bad shots I took last game."
Lowe said Williams was great in his 24 minutes of action against the Demon Deacons.
"He shot the ball in his areas," Lowe said. "He's come to understand his game and who he is and because of that he's more efficient. He played great."
NC State's next ACC test will come quickly, as the Wolfpack travel to Boston College to take on the Eagles Tuesday night.