Pack Loses Another Tough One

<B>RALEIGH, NC --</b> Duke's Shelden Williams scored 18 second-half points to the lead the Blue Devils past NC State, 86-74. The Pack couldn't build on a promising start or protect a halftime lead in dropping to 10-5 overall and 0-2 in conference play.

Holding Duke standout backcourt mates Daniel Ewing and J.J. Redick to a combined 25 points on 5-of-17 shooting wasn't enough for NC State tonight at the RBC Center, with the Pack (10-5, 0-2 in the ACC) falling, 86-74, to extend its losing streak to four games. With Engin Atsur doing a stellar defensive job on Redick (eight points, 1-of-5 from the field, 0-for-4 from three-point range), the fifth-ranked Blue Devils (12-0, 2-0) used the relatively unlikely combination of Shelden Williams (22 points), Ewing (17), Lee Melchionni (16) and DeMarcus Nelson (15) to overcome a three-point halftime deficit and snap a two-game losing streak in the RBC Center.

The Wolfpack got a standout game from Cameron Bennerman (20 points) and solid efforts from rookies Gavin Grant (nine points) and Andrew Brackman (nine points, four boards), but Julius Hodge (13 points, six boards, four assists, 3-of-10 shooting from the floor, five turnovers) never got going. Hodge also got into a small altercation with Ewing in the second half, when he bumped Ewing with the ball and was whistled for a personal foul. Afterward, Hodge maintained that he was simply in triple-threat position and creating space for himself during a highly physical game.

NC State was also hurt by foul trouble in the frontcourt, with Ilian Evtimov, Brackman, Hodge and Jordan Collins all finishing the contest with four fouls. Duke committed just three second-half turnovers and shot 56.7 percent (17-30) in the final 20 minutes, while the Pack hit only 35.7 percent (10-28) in the second half and was outscored 48-33 in the second stanza.

The contest started off promisingly enough for NC State, with Bennerman and Grant living up to ESPN's billing of "Throwdown Thursday." Bennerman's soaring jam over Williams brought the crowd to its feet and gave the Wolfpack a 6-2 lead, and Grant capped a personal 7-0 run later with a three-point play off an acrobatic alley-oop on a pass from Bennerman. A three-pointer from Atsur gave the Pack its biggest first-half lead of 10 points at 28-18, but the Devils used the free-throw line to stay in the game and chip away at the lead. At intermission, the Wolfpack had a three-point advantage, 41-38, though it felt like State had dominated play. NC State led in points in the paint (18-6), points off turnovers (9-3), bench points (16-12) and fast-break points (8-0), but a 13-for-14 effort from the charity stripe kept Duke alive.

The Blue Devils went ahead, 46-45, early in the second half, but two free throws from Brackman gave the Pack its final lead, 49-48. Duke pulled ahead by eight points, but the Wolfpack hung around. A three-pointer by Collins with under five minutes remaining sliced the deficit to 72-67, but open long-range looks by Collins and Atsur misfired, and the Devils pulled away with inside baskets from Williams and strong free-throw shooting for the final margin of 12 points.

Afterward, Evtimov noted that it was difficult for the players to adjust to the inconsistent manner in which the game was being officiated, especially on the interior. In addition, a couple of Pack players said that it was somewhat demoralizing to go into the half leading by just three, with the Wolfpack seemingly dominating most of the play.

Similar to the loss at Miami, NC State could not take advantage when it seemingly had its opponent on the ropes, and once again, the Wolfpack lost the battle of the boards, 32-26. The bottom line is that the Pack's losing skid has reached four, with a talented and upset Georgia Tech squad invading the RBC Center on Sunday. The performances by Bennerman, Grant and Brackman were bright spots tonight, but if the Wolfpack is to get its act together and get its ship righted, it will need better efforts from its senior leaders – Hodge, Collins and Levi Watkins.

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