Junior forward Ilian Evtimov started scorching hot for the Wolfpack, drilling five 3-pointers in the first half while presenting all sorts of problems for the Florida State frontcourt. NC State hit 8-of-19 3-pointers in the half, while Florida State knocked down just one from behind the arc.
With Evtimov leading the way, the Wolfpack led 33-19 at intermission after shooting 44.4% from the field and limiting the Seminoles to just 30.8% shooting. Julius Hodge chipped in eight points while Engin Atsur added five points and three assists.
Looking to avoid a letdown, the Wolfpack struck early in the second half. Guard Tony Bethel stole the ball from Florida State's Todd Galloway and raced to the other end where he converted the layup and was fouled on the play. After making his free throw to give NC State a 36-19 lead, Bethel left the game with a groin pull and did not return. His status for Friday's contest against Wake Forest is unknown at the moment, as Wolfpack head coach Herb Sendek was hesitant to give a timetable.
"I don't have a lot of details," Sendek said. "He pulled his groin on that first play of the second half and we'll just have to wait and see how he responds (to treatment) before tomorrow's game. I don't have a definitive answer for that."
Stepping up with Bethel sidelined was sophomore guard Engin Atsur, who finished with 17 points and a career-high nine rebounds. He managed the game well from the point guard position and was instrumental in limiting Von Wafer to 1-of-6 shooting from the floor.
"Engin's had a terrific season," Sendek said. "I think a lot of times, and I've said this before, but for some reason, he flies under the radar. He is a terrific player. He seems to give our team whatever we need. He found a way to get nine rebounds tonight when we were a little smaller than usual (without the services of injured center Jordan Collins). And he's just a winner. The thing I love about Engin the most is that he's a consummate team player. There is not one selfish molecule in his body. He is all about the other guy, all about the team and he is just a great guy to have on your squad."
Despite NC State pushing the lead to as much as 24 points in the second half, Florida State never quit and in the final minutes they managed to cut the lead to eight points. However, Evtimov stole the ball from Jason Rich on FSU's next possession and NC State hit free throws to secure the 70-54 victory.
Defensively, the Wolfpack was at its best again, holding Florida State to 36.0% shooting from the field and limiting the Noles to just 3-of-18 from beyond the arc. NC State's improved play on the defensive end has been influential in their recent success and Sendek believes it comes from the hard work being put in during practice.
"These guys have just kept working," he said. "Regardless of the circumstances, they haven't deviated from their work ethic. We've had more continuity in practice as we've got healthier, and I think that's not a coincidence as it's carried over to the games."
The Wolfpack finished with four players in double figures, as Evtimov led the way with 18 points. Atsur added 17 points and nine rebounds while Hodge chipped in 14 points and seven assists. Reserve guard Cameron Bennerman totaled 12 points and finished 6-of-7 from the free throw line.
Now a matchup in the quarterfinals against Wake Forest (26-4) looms large for NC State (18-12) Friday night. Most believe a victory over the Demon Deacons could seal an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament for the Wolfpack.
"We just hope to continue to play well and win games like we did this afternoon," Hodge said. "We knew coming into this game that we had to win this one and it feels good. Hopefully it helps our [NCAA] chances. All we can do is continue to play great basketball, great defense, and continue to show off our pearly whites."
Wake Forest will be playing without super point guard Chris Paul, who is serving a one-game suspension for his role in an altercation with Hodge during last weekend's Deacon victory over NC State. Senior guard Taron Downey will likely get the starting nod for Wake Forest.