Pack Starts Slowly, Pulls Away From VMI

NC State came out lethargic and fell behind early, but gradually the Wolfpack overcame the early deficit to run away from VMI, 75-55.

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    Playing without point guard Tony Bethel, NC State trailed 21-10 with 12:18 left in the opening half following a 3-pointer from VMI's Travis Holmes.

    VMI's plan was simple. Pack it in defensively and force NC State to beat them from the perimeter.

    The Wolfpack went away from their frontcourt players and were hoisting 3-pointers but started to try and establish Cedric Simmons and Andrew Brackman in the post.

    "We were pretty open," said Wolfpack head coach Herb Sendek. "Give them credit, I don't say that in any disrespectful way. Their gameplan was if we were going to beat them we were going to have to make outside shots because they were going to pack it in."

    "VMI came out real strong, but I think that was good for us," Wolfpack guard Gavin Grant said. "It taught us a lesson. You can't take anybody for granted and you've got to play every game like its against Duke or Georgia Tech."

    "We had to just hold the ball on offense more and make sure we get a better shot. It was a good game. I think it showed us that we need to run our offense and play our defense."

    The Wolfpack made necessary adjustments and started to feed the post despite VMI's gameplan and had success. With Simmons and Brackman receiving touches, the Wolfpack went on a 29-9 run to close the half, as a Simmons dunk and free throw in the final minute gave NC State a 39-30 halftime lead.

    "If there is one thing we need to do this year to win basketball games, that is to have an inside presence," Wolfpack forward Ilian Evtimov said. "Ced and Andrew are two big guys, very skilled, with tremendous athletic abilities. We need to give them the ball. We need to play off them guys if we want to have open shots on the exterior."

    "They have to double.. they have to do something. If they don't we are going to score inside."

    NC State shot just 39.4% in the opening half, but did have 11 assists and only five turnovers. Evtimov led the way with 11 points while Engin Atsur added 10 points and five assists.

    Despite the early advantage, VMI struggled against NC State's tough man-to-man defense, as the Wolfpack held the Cadets to 36% shooting from the field.

    NC State couldn't increase the lead in the early minutes of the second half, as both teams traded baskets. However, with 9:28 remaining Simmons and Brackman scored nine straight points to give the Wolfpack a 59-43 lead with 6:18 left.

    Brackman, who finished with a season-high 15 points, four rebounds, and two blocks, feels he is developing a strong chemistry with Simmons, another sophomore who has started the season strong.

    "Anytime you can find two guys that can work together in the post, it's always good," he said. "He's a whole different player. Last year he really didn't get a chance to get on the floor because we had Jordan and some other guys. Now that he gets on the floor and knows he has to contribute, I think he just puts it on his shoulders and shines."

    After the nine-point spurt, the Wolfpack cruised the rest of the way, heading into a critical two-game stretch 4-0 after defeating VMI, 75-55.

    The Wolfpack had another balanced scoring attack, with five players finishing in double figures. Evtimov's 18 paced NC State, Brackman added 15 and Simmons chipped in 14. Atsur and Cameron Bennerman added 10 each. Atsur and Gavin Grant totaled seven and six assists respectively.

    "We just kept playing," said Sendek. "I don't know that all that much changed to be honest with you. We went on a run, we tightened up on defense a little bit, and we made some shots. We didn't get shut out.

    "We did some things a lot better last weekend than we did today. I like our team. We're going to get better. I think maybe the best thing we can do is put tonight behind us and focus on Notre Dame at this point."

    After playing four games in five days, Sendek felt maybe his team's struggles from the perimeter could be due to tired legs, however he is not ready to use that as an excuse.

    "You could certainly wonder that," he said. "I didn't think we had the same pep to our step, but that was our schedule. You can't use that one. You've got to play the games where they show up and our guys are young, healthy, well-conditioned athletes."

    Sendek hopes to have back Bethel, his senior point guard and the defensive leader for the Wolfpack. The 6-foot-2 guard, who suffered a groin injury last season that has sidelined him for the majority of this year, could be a major factor as NC State heads on the road to play Notre Dame and Iowa.

    "His groin was bothering again tonight so we kept him on the sideline," said Sendek. "We're hoping for a quick recovery.

    "It's clear. Any game would be good to have Tony. He's a really good player, and you take a good player off of any team you've got to work extra hard to somehow make up for that. We'd like to have him all the time. We'd love to have him last year, we'd love to have had him tonight. We are very optomistic and hopeful that he will be back with us soon."

    Sendek, who has received some criticism in the past for playing a weak nonconference schedule, believes this year's slate is especially difficult. Back-to-back games against Notre Dame and Iowa, a road contest against nationally-ranked Alabama, and two home games against nationally-ranked George Washington and Seton Hall highlight the slate.

    "We play two terrific teams over the course of the next week," Sendek said. "I've maintained all along and I think maybe for the first time you guys have agreed with me a little bit, our nonconference schedule is really good.

    "Saturday we play a Notre Dame team that is extremely experienced. Everybody know Torin Francis down low, their guards, Quinn and Falls, and they had one of the nation's best recruiting classes. It's going to be a good Notre Dame team that we face. "Not to get ahead of ourselves, obviously Iowa returns five starters from last year's team and many think they can challenge for the Big Ten Championship. It's going to be a challenging week for us... the kind of game you guys like us to play."

    NC State (4-0) faces Notre Dame (2-0)in the opening game of the 2005 Wooden Tradition college basketball doubleheader on Nov. 26 at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN Classic at 7:00 pm.

    Xavier, coached by former NC State assistant Sean Miller, will face Purdue in the final game of the doubleheader.

    The event is named for John Wooden, the legendary head coach who led UCLA to 10 national championships.

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