Brackman Lifts Pack Past Feisty Cajuns

<B>RALEIGH, N.C. --</b> The ninth-ranked Pack withstood a torrid shooting performance from Louisiana-Lafayette's Tiras Wade, who dropped in 37 points, to earn a hard-fought victory over the Ragin' Cajuns, 78-72. The Wolfpack had ended Lafayette's season last year by beating them in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

On a night when the Wolfpack experienced foul trouble and injuries, received a pounding on the backboards and could find no answer for a red-hot scorer, NC State turned to an unlikely source: rookie big man Andrew Brackman. Shooting a perfect 6-for-6 from the field and 7-for-8 from the free-throw line, Brackman scored a career-high 20 points – including 16 in the second half – to help the Pack find a way to hold off Louisiana-Lafayette, 78-72.

Senior Julius Hodge (16 points, five rebounds, five assists), redshirt junior Tony Bethel (14 points, five steals) and junior Cameron Bennerman (11 points in 20 minutes) joined Brackman -- who also recorded four rebounds, two assists, three blocked shots and a steal -- in double-figures for the Pack. For Louisiana-Lafayette, Tiras Wade torched the nets for 37 points, while Chris Cameron added 11. Wade was 13-for-26 from the field and 5-for-9 from three-point range, including several shots that were strongly defended that left NC State players and coaches shaking their heads.

In a rematch of last year's meeting in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Ragin' Cajuns opened up a five-point lead at halftime, 28-23. State shot just 30 percent (6-20) from the field and 9.1 percent (1-11) from three-point land while committing 10 turnovers. It took the visitors nearly six minutes to score a point, but a 16-4 run midway through the half helped Louisiana-Lafayette to the advantage at intermission.

A fired-up Wolfpack began the second half with an 11-2 run, but the Ragin' Cajuns countered with a 7-2 span to even the score at 39. Louisiana-Lafayette went ahead, 48-47, but NC State used a 9-1 run to open up a 56-49 lead. The spread stayed about the same for most of the rest of the way, until Lafayette took advantage of suspect Pack free-throw shooting and began hitting contested three-pointers to close the gap. A double-clutch three-pointer by Wade cut the margin to just two points with under 10 seconds remaining, but Bennerman dropped in a pair from the charity stripe – he went 8-for-8 from the foul line – to ice the contest, with a Bethel layup at the buzzer providing the final margin.

The contest featured 51 personal fouls, with Brackman and three Ragin' Cajuns players fouling out. With senior Jordan Collins nursing an ailing hip and being available for only 11 minutes, Louisiana-Lafayette took advantage on the interior, winning the battle of the boards (42-25) and points in the paint (26-20). State answered by dominating in bench points (36-9) and points off turnovers (28-13).

The Wolfpack was stellar from the floor in the final 20 minutes, hitting 68.2 percent (15-22) and 54.5 percent (6-11) from beyond the arc. However, foul shooting continues to be a problem; State missed 15 of its 44 attempts from the charity stripe. Despite forcing 23 turnovers, the Pack committed 17 of its own and had just 13 assists.

Collins' hip-flexor injury isn't thought to be too serious, but the Pack still may need to call on freshmen Cedric Simmons and Gavin Grant if the rotation has to be altered. Neither rookie saw any action against the Ragin' Cajuns (3-5). Another cause for concern is the play of sophomore guard Engin Atsur; he remained mired in a horrific shooting slump, going 1-for-4 from the floor and 0-for-3 from three-point range. In the last four games, Atsur is shooting just 24 percent (6-25) from the field and 18.8 percent (3-16) from beyond the arc, failing to reach double-digits in any of the contests.

NC State improved to a perfect 8-0 on the season, with a rugged matchup looming this weekend: the Wolfpack will tangle with 16th-ranked Washington in its first road game on Sunday evening.

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