Despite Shooting Woes, Wolfpack Wins 60-53

The Wolfpack got a strong all-around performance from Julius Hodge and forced 21 turnovers to overcome a poor shooting night and overcome Purdue, 60-53, in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. NC State moved to a perfect 5-0 with the victory, with a matchup against Manhattan looming on Sunday.

RALEIGH, NC -- When NC State was winning its first four games by an average of 37.7 points per contest, one of the most impressive developments to observers was the squad's ability to roll without dominating scoring performances from senior Julius Hodge, who averaged 14 points in the last two contests. On Monday night against Purdue in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, however, the Pack needed Hodge in a big way, and the reigning ACC Player of the Year responded with 22 points, eight rebounds, five assists and four steals to lead the Wolfpack to a 60-53 victory over the Boilermakers.

While starting guards Engin Atsur and Tony Bethel struggled mightily, shooting a combined 3-for-20 from the field and 1-for-13 from three-point range, Hodge kept State in command. The Pack missed its first eight three-point attempts in the contest, but used a 13-0 run to turn a 10-10 stalemate into a 23-10 lead. However, Purdue answered with a 14-4 run to enter halftime trailing just 27-24.

NC State shot just 33.3 percent (11-33) from the field and 21.4 percent (3-14) from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes, and also was outrebounded, 26-21. The Wolfpack opened the second half with a 6-0 run to take a 33-24 advantage, but the Boilermakers managed to hang around, muscling the Pack around on the interior. A layup sliced the lead to 36-33, but back-to-back three-pointers from redshirt junior Ilian Evtimov sparked a 10-2 run for State. However, the Pack could never stretch the lead past 11 points, and a late 7-0 run by Purdue made for a hairy ending for the Wolfpack faithful, with the Boilermakers controlling the ball and down just 57-53 with 59.4 seconds remaining. NC State's defense came up with some huge stops and Hodge converted a pair of free throws to help the Pack pull away for the seven-point victory.

Afterward, State coach Herb Sendek had a weary smile, and even managed to joke about his team's offensive ineptitude against Purdue. The Wolfpack shot just 33.3 percent (21-63) from the floor and 27.6 percent (8-29) from downtown for the game, and even converted just 66.7 percent (10-15) from the foul line, an area where the Pack has excelled in recent years.

"I think we used up all of our made shots in the first four games and didn't have anything left tonight," said Sendek.

The coach noted that he was proud of the way his team "regrouped" at halftime and realized that it would have to "guard and rebound" on a night when the team had trouble converting from the perimeter. One of the keys for the Wolfpack was forcing 21 Purdue turnovers and turning those into a 27-14 advantage in points off turnovers.

"At times, our defense was our best offense," Sendek said.

For the most part, the Boilermakers elected to pack in their defense and force State to beat them from the outside, a dangerous proposition against a sharpshooting Wolfpack squad. While the strategy worked to some degree, Sendek said that he encouraged his players to continue bombing away and not shy away once it appeared that shots weren't falling.

"Most nights we're going to shoot the ball better than tonight," he said. "You can't walk around on eggshells like that."

Hodge got offensive help from junior Cameron Bennerman (11 points, five boards, three three-pointers in 20 minutes) and Evtimov (12 points). Senior Jordan Collins put on a terrific display of post defense: he was credited with six blocked shots to go with his seven points and five caroms in 25 minutes.

However, the show belonged to Hodge on this night, following a brief chat with Sendek during pregame introductions.

"I've just been impressed with him not forcing shots, making his teammates better and playing really smart," Sendek said. "I just wanted to remind him of that."

Hodge got the message and delivered a stellar all-around performance in lifting the Pack past Purdue and helping NC State move to 5-0 on the young campaign.

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