Sophomore Duo Propels Wolfpack Past Blue Hens

RALEIGH, NC -- Despite a cold-shooting performance from beyond the arc, NC State (3-0) defeated Delaware (2-1) in the final game of the Hispanic Annual Fund Classic.

Playing their third game in as many days, both NC State and Delaware looked tired and struggled shooting the basketball in the final game of the Hispanic College Fund Classic.

NC State came in shooting 51.3% from the field and 37.7% from beyond the arc, but in the first half the Wolfpack shot 29.2% and missed all eight 3-point attempts.

"I thought today Delaware was intent on taking away the three and force us to do some different things," Wolfpack head coach Herb Sendek said. "That's okay too as long as we make the right adjustments and reads."

Delaware didn't fare much better. The Blue Hens shot a paltry 23.3% but did hit three first-half three pointers as NC State led 32-21 at the break.

The Wolfpack's early lead was largely due to great shooting from the foul line. NC State hit 18-of-23 first-half free throws, while the Blue Hens made only 4-of-8.

With Cedric Simmons thriving in the post and Gavin Grant's constant penetration, Delaware had a hard time defending the Wolfpack's motion offense. Grant had 11 points and five rebounds at the half, hitting all five free throw attempts. Simmons had nine points and five boards while connecting on 5-of-6 free throws.

Delaware received strong post play from Harding Nana, a preseason all-conference performer. Nana had seven points and 11 rebounds at halftime, and finished the game with 14 points and a game-high 16 boards. The 6-foot-8 forward came into the contest averaging 16.5 points and 15.5 rebounds per game.

"Nana is really a talented player," Sendek said. "We were so intent on trying to keep him off the boards, and we couldn't do it. He had 16 rebounds, he had 16 last night, and he had 15 in 20 minutes on Friday night. He averaged a double-double last year for his team, and did a great job. That remains an area we've got to get better at... defensive rebounding."

The Wolfpack shot much better in the second half, hitting 14-of-25 shots (56%) but had a hard time pulling away from a fiesty Delaware squad.

"I think Delaware is a good team," Sendek said. "I think they are a mentally and physically tough team. I think they are a squad of men.

"I would say this [was] a very similar game to what we've had in the past with people like Lafayette, Manhattan, UNC-Wilmington. A hard-fought game against a good basketball team. Today forced us to be tough because this was a tough team we played."

The Blue Hens played tough perimeter defense and scrapped on both ends. There was a lot of talking between both teams, and Grant and Simmons felt that inspired them down the stretch.

"I think down the stretch we really came together," Grant said. "There were a lot of guys talking out there, but we came together as a group instead of talking back. We just played basketball.

"That really helped me to lift my talents to the next level. I'm used to it. I've seen guys get punched in the face, chased out the park after a game. So that out there was pretty clean to me."

"There was a lot of trash talking, but I didn't comment back," said Simmons. "I just stared them down after a couple of good moves. Nothing personal... it's just competitiveness."

With seven minutes to play, an Andrew Washington jumper cut NC State's lead to 55-47, but the Wolfpack came right back with an 11-1 run to push its lead to 66-48.

Simmons knocked down two free throws and Grant hit a deep jumper from the corner. Tony Bethel scored on a backdoor layup, and Grant added two more free throws. A possession later, Ilian Evtimov hit the Wolfpack's first three-pointer of the game, extending NC State's lead to 18 points with three minutes remaining.

The late offensive spurt proved to be the difference, and Tony Bethel had a highlight reel dunk in the closing minutes as NC State picked up the victory, 73-57.

Bethel, who has been nursing a groin injury all preseason, beat his defender on the perimeter and dunked on a Delaware guard to draw a huge applause from the crowd and his teammates.

"How about that dunk," said Sendek. "I thought to myself, and I'm sure everybody else did, I think his groin is okay now."

The Wolfpack received oustanding efforts from Grant and Simmons. Grant, who was named MVP for his stellar, consistent play during the tournament, finished with 22 points, nine rebounds, and two assists. He hit 6-of-12 shots from the field and 10-of-13 free throws.

"I thought Gavin played very well again tonight," Sendek said. "He slipped into the post, [and] he made good decisions for us on the break.

"Last night he had nine assists, tonight nine rebounds. He's doing a lot of different things for our basketball team."

"I like playing against teams that deny," Grant said. "All you've got to do is beat your man and then you can create for someone else or score yourself. Those are the types of games that I excel in. I like playing in games like that."

Simmons added 22 points, six boards and a game-high four blocks. His presence in the paint on both ends of the floor may have been the difference.

"Cedric had a great game," Grant said. "He was putting those free throws in from the other day. Today he did pretty well at the free throw line and was finishing at the basket. I think Ced was just a load for them today... he was too much.

"We felt like we had an advantage going down to Ced. We tried to get the ball to him and Andrew [Brackman]."

"I heard Delaware was a pretty good so I kind of got pumped up for it earlier," Simmons said. "I wanted to come out aggressive."

"Ced really responded... gave us a great presence at the basket," Sendek added. "He's working really hard to seal and to post up. At the same time, I think our guys are really aware of his presence. You need both of those things to make it work."

Coming into the season the main question around the Wolfpack program would be who will emerge to replace Julius Hodge. Three games in, it looks like Sendek has a variety of weapons at his disposal. Simmons and Andrew Brackman are imposing in the paint, and Grant, Bethel, Engin Atsur, and Cameron Bennerman have shown the ability to penetrate opposing defenses. He also has seen solid perimeter shooting from nearly everybody on the roster.

"We have different guys," said Sendek. "Our team is going to have a different personality, a different dynamic. I don't think a year ago, Cedric could have done what he did today. That's the neat part of college basketball. Guys grow and guys improve.

"A year ago when we had the BCA event, Gavin wasn't doing what he did tonight. It's hard because guys sometimes are impatient and everybody wants to arrive imediately. Sometimes just a good hard year of experience, maturity and hard work can pay great dividends. I think we saw some of that today from Gavin and Cedric."

NC State (3-0) will return to action Wednesday night to play VMI at the RBC Center.

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