Hatters Can't Hang With Pack

RALEIGH, NC -- Behind balanced scoring and a stifling defense, NC State topped Stetson 91-61 in the opener of the Hispanic College Fund Classic.

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    Cameron Bennerman in dress clothes and not playing, NC State started Engin Atsur and Gavin Grant at guard, Ilian Evtimov and Andrew Brackman at forward and Cedric Simmons at center.

    With Bennerman out of the rotation, the Wolfpack played a four-guard rotation of Atsur, Grant, Bethel, and freshman Courtney Fells.

    According to head coach Herb Sendek, Bennerman violated a team rule but will be back in action tomorrow as NC State (1-0) plays The Citadel at 6:00 pm.

    "Cam didn't participate tonight because he did not follow a team rule," said Sendek. "We expect him back tomorrow."

    After a sluggish start offensively, the Wolfpack started to click behind the hot-shooting of Ilian Evtimov and Tony Bethel.

    Bethel, who did not start the season opener, entered four minutes in with the Pack trailing 8-7. The 6-foot-2 senior guard drilled back-to-back 3-pointers to give NC State a 13-8 lead and the Wolfpack never looked back.

    "We didn't get off to a particularly fast start, but you could sense our players rally around Tony when he came in the game," Sendek said. "He played so darn hard. That just became contagious, and there is no question he gave us a needed shot in the arm at that point."

    "He hit two threes and had a couple of deflections... he gave a great spark," Engin Atsur added. "That's his first game, and he did a great job. He looked great and he's going to keep helping his teammates."

    "I was looking to get guys open and apply some ball pressure," Bethel said. "That's what I did and we got a spark. I happened to be open for a couple of threes and knocked them down."

    NC State was scorching hot from the field in the opening half, shooting a sizzling 72% from the field on 18-of-25 shooting. The Wolfpack had 12 assists and just seven turnovers prior to the break.

    The Wolfpack was also strong defensively, as they applied relentless pressure out of their man-to-man defense. Stetson shot just 27.3% from the field in the first half, hitting only 6-of-22 from the field. The Hatters had 10 turnovers and only three assists, and had to struggle just to find an open shot against NC State.

    Leading 48-22 at halftime, the Wolfpack again started slowly, as Stetson hit four 3-pointers in the opening five minutes and added a layup to cut NC State's lead to 54-39.

    Head coach Herb Sendek used his first timeout of the game, and apparently got his message across as the Wolfpack went on an 18-5 run to open the game up again, taking a 72-45 lead on an Atsur 3-pointer.

    "He talked about defense," Atsur said of Sendek during the timeout. "They ran and got open threes. We kind of lost focus in the beginning of the second half. We didn't want to start the second half like the first half, but we couldn't do that. That's one thing we have to work on. After that timeout we focused on defense and didn't give them those open looks."

    "He said what coaches are suppose to say," Bethel added. "He got us riled up and we came back out playing. We just had a slip up, and they got some early threes."

    The Wolfpack's hot-shooting continued, as NC State opened the season with the 91-61 victory.

    Ilian Evtimov led the Wolfpack in scoring, as the senior finished with 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Atsur added 17 points, six assists and three steals.

    Gavin Grant had a superb all-around game, totaling 13 points, four rebounds, and a game-high nine assists. Grant, a 6-foot-7 guard from The Bronx, had as many assists as the entire Stetson team, and Sendek hopes his sophomore will continue to develop into the Wolfpack's "small utility man."

    "Gavin did a great job of making his teammates better tonight with nine assists," said Sendek. "He's our small utility man. He's a jack-of-all trades. I'm really pleased with the progress he has made. He's really come on, and we asked him to do a lot of different things tonight."

    "I don't think point guard has a lot to do with passing," said Grant. "Anyone can hit an open man. That's what I did tonight. I didn't do anything special.

    "All I had to do was get in the middle and look for what was open. If nobody was open I would try and finish myself."

    Scorching throughout the night, NC State shot 57% from the field, drilling 34-of-60 shots. Even more impressive, as a team the Wolfpack had a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, totaling 22 assists and just 11 turnovers. The Pack's ability to penetrate Stetson's 2-3 defense and find the open man was the key in the win.

    "We knocked down some shots, and we just played together," Evtimov said. "Guys found each other, and we were patient. I think it was a good team effort.

    "When people are looking for each other it is very easy to feel comfortable and get in that flow."

    "I think we shot the ball pretty well," said Grant. "Ilian was just shooting lights out tonight. He started out just like he did last year."

    "We've got great shooters on this team," Atsur added. "Guys just made shots tonight."

    While NC State obviously played well in the opener, Sendek quickly mentioned that his team still has a lot of room for improvement.

    "We did some good things, and we know we have a lot of room for improvement," Sendek added. "I'm sure the film will once again provide us with a good dose of humility.

    "We have a lot of things to work on, but we have good intentions. We have guys who are listening, trying... their minds and hearts are in the right place. Which is really important. It's hard to move forward if you don't have that first installed."

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