Team Effort Yields Huge Victory

<B>WASHINGTON, DC --</B> Julius Hodge scored 22 points and Andrew Brackman and Cameron Bennerman combined for 32 points as No. 7 seed NC State upset No. 2 seed Wake Forest 85-61 in the ACC quarterfinals.<P>

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    All NC State fans should be proud of the Wolfpack tonight, as the Pack played perhaps its most complete game of the year by defeating Wake Forest.

    "I could not be more pleased with our performance tonight," a thrilled Herb Sendek said following the game. "Our guys really stepped up and it was a great team win. We played well offensively throughout the game and gave a much better defensive accounting for ourselves in the second half.

    "For us it was really a complete team win. We had a number of guys step up and play outstanding games. Julius (Hodge) continues his stellar career. We ask him to do so many different things. He was just really special tonight. Andrew Brackman, man was he special tonight. He gave us a big lift that we really needed. These guys stepped up in a big way. I'm really proud of them."

    Without starting point guard Tony Bethel and center Jordan Collins playing just two minutes, NC State managed to have four players in double figures with star senior Julius Hodge leading the way.

    Hodge's 22 points, eight rebounds and five assists came at a time when NC State needed it most. Also playing well for the Wolfpack was Ilian Evtimov, who finished with 18 points on 5-of-9 shooting (including 5-of-7 from 3-point range) and a career-high seven assists in 39 minutes of action.

    "(Our younger) guys had to step up during the year and they learned a lot," Evtimov said. "Now it is the time to show it. I think Andrew Brackman showed how much he has improved. He made the free throws down the stretch, had some huge rebounds, and made some huge blocks. He isn't playing like a freshman, I tell you that much."

    Perhaps the biggests efforts came from guard Cameron Bennerman and freshman forward Andrew Brackman. Bennerman, starting for Bethel, chipped in 17 points, eight rebounds, and five assists while seeming to grab every loose ball. Brackman was huge in the second half, as he scored all 16 of his points in the final twenty minutes.

    "We started with defense and our overall energy level was there the entire game," Bennerman said. "I can't really think of any part of the game where our energy wasn't there. I'm a high-energy guy anyway, that boosts my game. It was the energy and the defense."

    Both teams shot the ball well as they went to the break tied at 38-38. The Wolfpack shot 48.3% (14-29) from the field and 46.2% (6-of-13) from 3-point range while Wake Forest hit a scorching 55.2% of their field goals. The offensive execution was outstanding for both teams, surprising with each starting point guard on the bench in street clothes.

    In the second half NC State turned up the intensity and started to hit the boards while also clamping down on Wake Forest on the defensive end of the floor. After being outrebounded 18-13 in the opening half, NC State turned the tables and had a +8 advantage in the second.

    Bennerman and Brackman in particular went to work, as Bennerman recorded five boards including four offensive rebounds and Brackman added four.

    "[Offensive rebounding] was really important for us and obviously hasn't been a strength for us throughout the regular season," Sendek said. "The guys played with great determination tonight. Andrew (Brackman) can do that very well. He was nothing short of sensational."

    "Coming into this game, we felt very confident in our defense," Hodge said. "Our rebounding just got better because we boxed out for the most part. Guys like (Andrew) Brackman came in and did their job rebounding and made some great plays. That is what we needed. We needed guys coming off the bench to do their job, plus more. Everybody who stepped onto the court had a part of this victory. It feels good."

    NC State also held Wake to just 40% shooting in the second half while hitting 53% of their shots. Leading the defensive effort was Engin Atsur, who tallied three steals and did a good job of keeping Justin Gray, Wake's scoring leader, in check.

    The Wolfpack finished the night shooting 50.8% from the field and knocking in 81.3% (13-16) of their free throws. Wake did manage to shoot 49% from the field, but hit just 50% (10-of-20) of its free throws and just eight field goals in the second half.

    Perhaps the most impressive statistic was NC State's 19 assists with just eight turnovers, a 2.4-1 assist-to-turnover ration. On the other hand, Wake Forest recorded 11 assists and 15 turnovers. The Wolfpack's ability to control tempo, value the basketball, and make plays was outstanding against a dangerous Wake Forest squad.

    Most media members are saying NC State's now a lock for the NCAA Tournament, but the Wolfpack's not thinking about that. Now in the ACC semifinals against Duke or Virginia, the Wolfpack is looking to win the ACC Title.

    If NC State can advance to Sunday's final, Wolfpack head coach Herb Sendek would become just the fourth coach in ACC history to take four of his first nine teams to the title game, joining Duke's Vic Bubas, Wake Forest's Bones McKinney, and NC State's Norm Sloan.

    Why does NC State seem to play so well in the ACC Tournament under Sendek? The answer is simple according to Julius Hodge: Herb Sendek.

    "Coach Sendek gets us so prepared for every game," he said. "By the time the ACC Tournament comes around we have engrained in our membranes -- space, rebounding and play tough defense. We get it done and go about it like our coach goes. He is a great guy, a great coach with great character. He is very demanding. When we are on the court we are very demanding of ourselves. We really tend to play well in the postseason. Hopefully we can continue this ride."

    Tomorrow's semifinal games will feature No. 1 seed North Carolina and No. 4 seed Georgia Tech facing off at 1:30 while No. 7 seed NC State and the Duke/Virginia winner meeting at 3:30.


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