Cameron Bennerman scored 26 points and Engin Atsur added 18 as the No. 14 North Carolina State rallied to beat Wake Forest 92-82.
Bennerman was 7-of-14 from the field and a flawless 12-for-12 from the foul line.
On defense, Bennerman was equally effective, helping hold Gray to 5-of-22 shooting, including 2-of-11 on 3-pointers. Gray had been averaging 30 points per game over his last three games. He was held to just 14 points by a stifling Wolfpack defense led by Bennerman.
"Cameron has had a great senior season so far," said NC State head coach Herb Sendek said. "He gave us both ends of the floor tonight and was perfect at the free throw line. He just had a great all around game for us."
"No player in our league it seems has been on a tear like [Gray] has. We watched tape of their game against Maryland and he was making four-point shots falling out of bounds... really some indefensable shots. I thought Cameron and Engin both did a good job. He probably missed some shots that on other nights he's going to make, and that helps too."
Ilian Evtimov added 13 points for the Wolfpack (15-3, 4-2) who improved to 12-0 at home. They also avoided their first losing streak of the season after a loss at No. 1 Duke on Wednesday.
"I think our team has a very good basketball IQ," said Sendek. "They pick things up very well. For the most part they have been very receptive to us coaching them. With that kind of ability and that kind of mindset you have the best chance of getting better."
Both teams struggled to connect from behind the 3-point line. The Wolfpack hit just five of their 19 three point attempts while the Deacon's could muster just five in their 21 attempts. However, it was NC State that was able to make the adjustment needed to pull away. In the second half with star center Cedric Simmons saddled with foul trouble, the Wolfpack started to post up their bigger guards, Atsur, Bennerman, and Gavin Grant, and it led to easy baskets in the paint.
"The outside shot wasn't falling for us," Sendek said. "Tonight Wake was playing good defense and a few didn't go down for us. Our guys were good enough to adjust and find other ways to score."
"We made the adjustment to stop shooting so many threes," said Bennerman. "In the first half I think we shot more than what we really needed to. We made that adjustment in the second half."
"Cameron had a great size advantage," Atsur said. "He did a great job of getting the ball inside and going to the hole. They had a hard time stopping him."
"I think our guards won the game for us today," said Grant. "They try to post me because I'm a big guard and we posted Cam and he had a big game today."
The free throw line was a different story as the Wolfpack took advantage of a physical game, connecting on 37 of their 43 free throw attempts. The Deacon's hit 19-of-25 of their attempts.
"Our guys did a really good job at the free throw line," Sendek said. "Obviously 37-of-43 is terrific shooting. Our guys went to the line with a lot of poise and made free throws. If we wasn't able to do that tonight we would not have won."
Wake Forest lead by as many as 13 in the first half, but a Tony Bethel 3-pointer with l:02 left in the first half help cut the deficit to five.
Despite trailing by a large margin, NC State never panicked and stayed patient offensively.
"It's not like we were down 13 and playing our best basketball," Grant said. "We knew that we had to get our head together and once we got our head together we would be fine."
"I know we were down and it was because of our lack of defensive intensity," Bethel. "It was very important for us to get out and pressure them. We were able to cut the lead down."
Bethel's defensive pressure on the ball was perhaps the key to NC State's defensive improvement. Matched up primarily against true freshmen point guards Harvey Hale and Shamain Dukes, Bethel was able to rattle the duo and force five critical turnovers.
"I just wanted to give them pressure and help our guys on the backline," said Bethel. "If I gave [Hale] pressure that would make it easier to guard Justin Gray. He turned it over a couple of times... he's a young fella."
"He was smothering Hale and their other freshman point guard," said Grant. "He got steals, he got Cam dunks on the fast break."
"I think [Bethel] was a great leader on the court today," Evtimov said. "He was guarding the point guard. If he's busting his butt on the ball with ball pressure, it's leading off to everyone else because if we all don't do it, it's not fair to Tony."
After three ties, NC State finally took its first lead at 60-58 on a Bennerman lay-up. The Deacons tied the game three more times before the Wolfpack took over in the final minutes. NC State shot a blistering 58.3% from the field in the second half and drilled 23-of-26 free throws to score 52 points in the final twenty minutes.
One area of concern for NC State has to be rebounding. Wake outrebounded the Pack 49-to-31 overall, with 22 rebounds coming on the offensive end. The extra opportunities kept the Demon Deacons in the game despite shooting just 40 percent from the field.
"We really had our work cut out for us to keep Wake off the glass," said Sendek. "They came into the game leading our conference in rebounding, and they did nothing to hurt their margin in that area today."
The Wolfpack is now sitting at 15-3 overall and 4-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Next up is a nonconference matchup with Seton Hall, and Sendek doesn't expect his team to overlook the Pirates. NC State is playing with balance on both ends of the floor and has the ability to win in a variety of ways. According to Sendek, that consistency is a strength.
"That's been fairly consistent," he said. "That's kind of the way we've been playing. We've kind of been a little bit like Baskin and Robbins. We've had a lot of different looks and flavors."