Pack Hoping For February Turnaround

If NC State is to put an end to a skid that has seen it lose eight of its last 11 games, it can look to recent February performances for inspiration.

The Wolfpack went 7-2 last February and is 15-8 in ACC games in the last three years in that month. Getting off to an 0-2 start in February this year isn't promising, but the Pack hasn't stopped believing.

"It's tough. But we've got to keep fighting and keep fighting and believing," said senior Tony Bethel. "We believe in each other and we believe in our coaches and we believe we can still do it. That's our goal right now, to just look forward to the next game and the next game and the next game.

"The season's not over. There's a whole lot we can still accomplish and we are going to accomplish."

"Nobody thought we would be at this point, really," said rookie Cedric Simmons. "We just have to pull together and come out of it somehow."

Strong February starts by both Bethel and Simmons is giving the Pack a reason to believe. In the past two games, Bethel is averaging 18 points, 5.5 rebounds and three assists, while Simmons is averaging 13.5 points, six rebounds and two blocks. Bethel's return to health and Simmons' addition to the starting lineup are promising developments for a team looking for optimism.

"Ced is progressing very well, in the low post, on defense," Bethel said. "He's learning, and that's the key thing.

"He's going to be great. He's learning and he's accepting it. If a senior says, ‘C'mon, get it together,' he nods his head and accepts it and goes out and plays even harder. That's what I like about Ced."

"It's what I've been working for for a long time," said Simmons of joining the starting lineup. "It's taken a while for me to feel like I was finally here. I was really pumped up."

The hope is that by the time the ACC Tournament rolls around, Bethel will be back to top form, Simmons will continue his maturation and key reserves Cameron Bennerman and Levi Watkins will be back from injury. If all those things fall into place, the Wolfpack should have all its pieces in the right places for the first time since late December.

In that scenario, who knows what is possible in March?

"We have a team full of gym rats and we're going to come out and we're going to win our next game," said senior Julius Hodge after the defeat at the hands of Virginia on Saturday. "If we don't, it's going to be obvious and we're going to lose it. Losing isn't fun -- and I'm a winner. All I've done in my life is won and work hard, and this doesn't feel good at all.

"I'm going to make the best of the situation. I'm a hard worker and I'm going to continue to work hard because that's what I do. And my teammates are going to follow."

Some feel that having Hodge take just five shots, like he did against Virginia, doesn't give the Pack the chance to win. Others point to the 24-point loss at UNC, in which Hodge took 17 shots, as evidence that the truth is somewhere in between.

All Hodge knows is that it's going to take different efforts and performances than have been on display recently for State to get untracked.

"Guys have to know that this is a team and no one piece is greater than the whole," said Hodge. "We have to go out there and play on the court together and with synergy. And we can't have what we're having now. We can't have it. We have to continue to play hard and play together.

"Everybody has to get their heads, because there's no Michael Jordans or Magic Johnsons or Tim Duncans on the team. We have to all work together and we have to play within the system."

One reporter started to ask whether the Pack still had NCAA Tournament aspirations despite a 13-9 overall record and a 3-6 mark in ACC play. He didn't get very far before he was emphatically interrupted by Bethel.

"Yes. Yes," said Bethel, staring at the ground. "We're never out. We believe and we're just going to keep working."

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