Pack Rolls Past 'Noles

RALEIGH, NC -- Engin Atsur is catching fire at the right time.

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  • Herb Sendek Audio + Quotes
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    The junior guard drilled five 3-pointers and dished out eight assists to lead No. 18 NC State (20-5, 9-3) to an 86-64 victory over Florida State (15-7, 5-6) Wednesday night at the RBC Center.

    NC State was smoldering hot in the first half, connecting on 14-of-23 field goal attempts, with nine of those coming from behind the arc. The Wolfpack set the tone quickly, grabbing a 7-0 lead with three-pointers from Atsur and Tony Bethel in the first minute. Florida State's Diego Romero hit a layup midway through the half to cut the Wolfpack's lead to 13-12, and the Seminoles remained within striking distance before NC State took over.

    FSU freshman Uche Echefu made a free throw with a little over four minutes left in the half, cutting NC State's lead to 29-27, but Atsur drained a three to start a 16-0 run that gave the Wolfpack a 45-27 halftime advantage.

    "We turned the ball over twice and they hit two 3's," said Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton. "It seemed like it just went downhill from there. We were close, we were right where we needed to be."

    The run was highlighted by five straight points from freshman guard Courtney Fells. Fells scored his first ACC basket when Atsur spotted him cutting backdoor for a layup, and seconds later, after a Todd Galloway turnover, Fells followed a Bethel miss with a basket plus a foul. He converted the free throw to give State a 40-27 lead.

    The Pack played the second half without senior forward Ilian Evtimov. Evtimov, who had tallied six points in 15 minutes of action, had his foot stepped on, and he left the game at halftime with what has initially been diagnosed as a sprained foot.

    "With Ilian out, it threw us off our rotation a little bit, but no one person can be Ilian," said Wolfpack head coach Herb Sendek. "That is our mentality when any one of our players goes down, and we've got to play on without them.

    "I know everybody is probably anxious to hear more about Ilian, nobody moreso than I am. He's at the hospital right now getting an MRI. We'll have some information at another time."

    Even without Evtimov, the Wolfpack was able to nurse the 18-point halftime lead, as Florida State could never pull closer than 15.

    Seminole sophomore guard Isaiah Swann hit a layup with 10:40 remaining to trim State's lead to 60-45, but that was as close as FSU would get. A Cameron Bennerman layup ended the Seminoles' run and with just under five minutes remaining, Andrew Brackman hooked up with Cedric Simmons on a thunderous alley-oop to stretch the lead back to 20 at 75-55.

    NC State scored 26 points off 23 turnovers and held the high-scoring Seminoles to just 64 points.

    "Defensively, I think we did a good job against a very explosive team," said Sendek.

    Offensively, the Wolfpack couldn't have played any better. NC State shot 63.6 percent from the field, its highest shooting percentage in an ACC contest since shooting 64.3 percent February 22, 1996 against Georgia Tech. Registering 22 assists on 28 made field goals, the Wolfpack hit 13-of-23 3-pointers and 17-of-20 free throws.

    "They did a very good job of executing their offense," said Hamilton. "They found the shooters, they shared the ball around, and they knocked their shots down.

    "They are a good shooting team. A couple of them were from the parking lot. I'm sure we could have contested a little bit better."

    Four other Wolfpack players joined Atsur in double figures, with Cedric Simmons recording 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting. Tony Bethel added 13, and Bennerman and Brackman chipped in 12 each. Brackman also tallied five rebounds and five assists.

    Al Thornton led Florida State with 14 points, but the talented junior hit just 5-of-14 field goal attempts.

    "Al had good looks," said Hamilton. "We can't be a team that relies totally on one person. I thought it was our inability to execute in halfcourt."

    One area of concern for the Wolfpack has to be the 21 turnovers, and it will likely be stressed in practice this week as NC State prepares for what should be a tough road game at Virginia Tech.

    "We really have to cut back on our turnovers," Brackman said. "At the beginning of the season rebounding really hurt us, and I think now it's our turnovers."

    NC State (20-5, 9-3) has yet to lose back-to-back games this season and reached 20 wins faster than any team since the 1973-74 Wolfpack.

    "We have a really good group of guys," said Sendek. "They have responded well to a variety of situations, which you have to do throughout a season."

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