Using an inside-out offense and a stifling defense, NC State hammered visiting Virginia Tech at the RBC Center this afternoon, 74-54. The Wolfpack led by as many as 27 points in avenging one of its most disappointing and damaging losses of the season – 72-71 on Jan. 19 -- and knocked down half of its three-point attempts (11-22) to improve to 16-11 overall and 6-8 in the ACC. The Hokies fell to 14-11 and 7-7.
After Virginia Tech scored the first two baskets of the contest, the Pack ripped off 17 unanswered points, holding the visitors scoreless for nearly seven and a half minutes. Coach Herb Sendek shuttled players in and out of the game constantly to keep up defensive intensity, and State also ran its offense to a "T," lulling the defense to sleep before drilling a long three-pointer or capitalizing on a Hokie turnover in transition. Six straight points by Virginia Tech made it 17-10, but the Wolfpack countered with six in a row of its own to boost the lead to 13, 23-10. The Hokies closed to within eight, 26-18, with 3:45 remaining in the half, but after the teams exchanged layups, Sendek called timeout with 17.2 seconds left and the Pack up 10, 30-20. Big man Jordan Collins took a pass from Julius Hodge and nailed a three-pointer with five seconds left in the half to stake State to a 33-20 lead at intermission. Sendek later joked that it was nice to see his team make a key three-pointer just before halftime instead of the opposition, which has happened a few times this year.
At the break, the Wolfpack was led by Engin Atsur's 10 points and also controlled points off turnovers (14-4) and fast-break points (11-5). NC State forced 11 Hokies turnovers in the first 20 minutes, and the easy buckets that came as a result helped offset 37.5 percent (9-24) shooting from the floor for the Pack. Atsur and Tony Bethel each hit a pair of treys in the opening half, while Hodge (five rebounds, four assists, one steal, zero turnovers) and Ilian Evtimov (seven points, four boards) also made big contributions.
Virginia Tech started the second half with a basket, but Collins answered with another three-pointer. After another long-range shot from the Hokies, the Wolfpack put together a key sequence to seize control of the game. Hodge fed Evtimov for another three-pointer, then an Atsur steal led to a fast-break jam by Hodge off a pass from Bethel. Another three from Collins was followed by a pair of free throws for Hodge, and despite a desperate timeout by the Hokies, the Pack quickly had a 20-point lead, 46-26, just 4:17 into the second half.
State methodically ran its offense and clamped down defensively, never letting the visitors closer than 17 points the rest of the way. A layup by Atsur off a nice pass from Gavin Grant pushed the Wolfpack up by 27, 68-41, with 3:25 left, and Sendek emptied his bench. Not only did walk-ons Will Roach and Braxton Albritton see some time, but Levi Watkins, who has missed six games in a row with a knee injury, made a surprise appearance after Cedric Simmons fouled out. Virginia Tech outscored NC State 9-2 in garbage time for the final margin of 20 points, 74-54. The Wolfpack shot lights-out in the second half, hitting at a 60-percent clip (15-25) from the field and 50 percent (5-10) from three-point land.
The Pack was led by another stellar all-around game by Atsur, who recorded 18 points, four caroms and two steals in 36 minutes, with just one turnover – he has now committed just 17 turnovers in 14 conference contests. He also nailed 5-of-6 shots from the floor, including all four of his three-point attempts, plus 4-for-4 from the charity stripe. He was joined in double-figures by Evtimov (14 points, six boards, two assists, one blocked shots, 6-of-9 from the field), Collins (14 points, three blocked shots, two steals, 3-of-6 three-pointers) and Bethel (10 points, six assists, two steals, one turnover). Hodge notched eight points, eight rebounds, five assists a steal and one turnover in 32 minutes. Cameron Bennerman contributed two points, three boards and three assists in just nine minutes off the bench, while Simmons added two points, two rebounds and a blocked shot before fouling out in seven minutes.
On a side note, Hodge was unavailable to the media following the contest due to a hand injury suffered in the closing moments of the game. The injury isn't thought to be serious, but he had the hand iced down after the game. Perhaps the only cause for the concern in the contest was Hodge slipping to 4-of-8 on free throws after entering the game on a 13-for-14 streak. He missed three straight at one point.
The Wolfpack dominated in points in the paint (24-16), points off turnovers (24-15) and fast-break points (18-5) to cruise to the crucial victory. Knowing it needs to win out, the Pack came up with a terrific effort against the Hokies and realizes it will need more of the same at Virginia (March 2, 9 p.m.) and against sixth-ranked Wake Forest (March 6, 8 p.m.) to close out the regular season.