Bethel had averaged just 6.6 points per game, and in the game's first seven minutes he had 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc. However, NC State couldn't get Bethel any more touches the remainder of the half, and it would come back to haunt the Wolfpack.
After Gavin Grant's driving layup gave the Wolfpack a 26-15 advantage, Miami used a 12-1 spurt to tie the game 27-27. The Hurricanes switched defenses to keep NC State's offense off balance, and recorded five offensive rebounds during the run to offset the horrible shooting.
Wolfpack head coach Herb Sendek was concerned with Miami's ability to hit the offensive glass.
"Against them it just seems like you're in a constant rotation," Sendek said. "You're scrambling, you're blocking out for survival, trying to come down with rebounds. We emphasized that coming into the game.
"Last year when they beat us in Miami they scored 21 points off of second shots, and I think this year they were getting back over 47% of their misses which is downright staggering."
Struggling to score points, the Wolfpack guards started to feed the ball into the post, and emerging center Cedric Simmons went to work. Simmons was outstanding on both ends of the floor, and after four straight points by the 6-foot-9 center, NC State led 34-30 at intermission. Simmons tallied six points, six rebounds, and six blocks, and Engin Atsur added seven points and three assists in the opening half as the Wolfpack shot 47.4% from the floor.
Simmons, who ranks second in the ACC in blocks behind Duke's Sheldon Williams, knew that playing Miami's quick guards would be a challenge. With six blocks in the opening half, his effectiveness may have taken away some of Miami's aggressiveness.
"I felt like we were prepared, but just knowing their offense wasn't enough," he said. "It seemed like it didn't really have any impact, they were still bringing it in there. I could tell they were a little tentative by a couple of their drives."
Center Anthony King's eight points led Miami, as star guards Robert Hite and Guillermo Diaz combined to hit just 3-of-10 first-half shots. Despite shooting 31.4% from the floor, the Hurricanes were able to stay close due to nine offensive rebounds and solid shooting from the free throw line.
NC State had to expect that they wouldn't keep the duo quiet all night, and early in the second half Diaz and Hite started to take over. Hite opened the half with a deep 3-pointer, and minutes late Diaz hit a 3-pointer off a high screen to tie the score at 38-38.
The Wolfpack's Cameron Bennerman would answer Diaz and Hite's play with a dominant performance. After scoring five points in the first half, Bennerman exploded in the second half. The senior scored 12 points during a 25-14 spurt midway through the half that gave the Wolfpack a 63-53 advantage with 6:17 remaining. His hustle and intensity on both ends allowed the Wolfpack to push the ball offensively, open up a comfortable lead and cruise past Miami in the final minutes to a 81-69 victory.
"I thought for the most part it was a hard-fought game," Miami head coach Frank Haith said. "State made a lot of big plays. It was a tight game. There was a four-minute stretch there where they really seperated themselves. I give them credit. They made plays to win the game.
"They do a great job of running. People talk about their style, they put pressure on you. They run the floor very well, [and] they've got a great low post presence in Simmons."
|Simmons Records One Of His Seven Blocks|
"Really pleased with our effort today," Sendek said. "Miami is a very difficult team to defend, especially now that Anthony Harris has returned and is back in the lineup.
"We were very pleased to open with the kind of performance we had today."
Bennerman finished the game with 19 points on an efficient 5-of-6 shooting from the floor and chipped in four rebounds and two steals.
"I thought Cameron Bennerman really gave us solid play on both ends of the floor tonight," Sendek said. "I think Cam is off to a really good start this year, and I think tonight was as well as he's played.
"He was consistent on both ends of the floor. We really need him to be at his best because he is so talented and he does make a great difference for our team."
"He's a senior, he deserves everything he gets," Simmons added. "That really helped our team out a lot. His energy and his hustle really helped everyone else get back into the game."
"Cameron... he's a senior, he's our leader," Andrew Brackman said of Bennerman. "He has his days, but I think today was the real Cam. Hopefully he can keep stepping up in big games for us because we really need him down the stretch."
Bennerman's strong game played a role in NC State's 12-point victory, but it may have been the Wolfpack's overall effectiveness on both ends of the floor that was the difference. The Wolfpack hit 12-of-18 3-pointers (66.7%) and shot 52% from the floor while knocking down 27-of-33 free throws (81.8%).
"We were hot tonight," said Sendek. "I don't know that we are consistently a 67% 3-point shooting team, but when you run the Princeton offense that's what happens."
NC State continued to receive quality play from everyone in the rotation. Bethel tallied with 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the floor, including 5-of-7 from beyond the arc. Ilian Evtimov added 11 points, all in the second half, and Engin Atsur chipped in 11 points and a game-high six assists. Gavin Grant totaled six points and seven rebounds while hitting four-of-four free throws down the stretch, and Simmons finished with eight points, nine rebounds and seven blocks. Brackman bounced back from a subpar offensive effort against UNC-Asheville to chip in 11 points and four blocks.
Sendek is happy with the balance he is getting from his team and his players consider it to be the Wolfpack's biggest strength.
"I think [balance] is always important," Sendek said. "Every year, everybody who is on the team has a role and there has to be accountability that each guy performs his job to the best of his ability.
"Not everybody can be the quarterback, somebody has to be the center. Not everybody can be the running back, someone has to be the tackle. Everybody has to do his job, and when you have a team with balance, I think that's a good thing. I like that dimension that's evolving with this team."
"We have the most balance since I've been here, even more than any team that I remember playing against," said Evtimov. "I feel that we have weapons we can use in all aspects of the game.
"We have shot blockers, good inside presence, we have great three point shooters. We have good athletes, Gavin Grant, Cedric, Cameron. We have guys who just know the game. We have guys who are older, we have guys that have transferred, we have guys from overseas. I think all that mix is just tremendous, and we know how to use that."
No. 19 NC State (8-1) now must prepare for a stiff nonconference game, as they head to Birmingham, Alabama to face the Crimson Tide (5-3) on Thursday.