"We have to be careful with him," Pack head coach Sidney Lowe said of Atsur. "I don't want to wear him down... it's going to be important to us that we have him in crunch-time situations so we don't want to wear him down too early.
"That was his first real action in a while... he's such a veteran, and he's under control. You can just tell a difference in our offense when he's running the show."
"Playing with Engin, it's great," added guard Courtney Fells. "He's a composed player, and he knows when situations are getting out of hand."
With Atsur running the point position, NC State was able to slide Gavin Grant to the wing, and the junior responded with an explosive first half. Grant came out and drilled two 3-pointers to open the game, and with an Atsur layup mixed in State led 8-0 just minutes in.
Leading the way for St. Augustine's was talented senior Antonio Fitzgerald. A 6'2 guard from Danville, Virginia, Fitzgerald kept the Falcons in the game early, scoring 13 points in the first 13 minutes as the Falcons bounced back to lead 23-21. However, just like it did in the first exhibition game, State ended the half with a run that gave them a comfortable halftime margin.
Against Northern State, the Wolfpack closed the first half with a 21-0 run to erase a double-digit deficit. This time, NC State used a 13-5 spurt to take a 34-26 lead into halftime, the big play coming on a running 40-foot, 3-pointer from Grant in the final seconds.
State hit just 10-of-27 shots (37%) in the first 20 minutes, but Grant's 5-of-7 shooting and 18 points led the way. Ben McCauley added eight, but the Wolfpack's other potent scorer, Courtney Fells, had attempted just two shots.
With the lead, Lowe would sit Atsur for the remainder of the game, and this move allowed Grant to move to point guard. At 6-foot-7, he is a nightmare for opposing points on both ends of the floor, and the switch put him in a playmaker role where he could look even more for his teammates.
Fells opened the second half very aggressive. The 6-foot-5 guard hit a turnaround jumper at the top of the key to start the Pack's scoring. On the next possession he added a layup and followed that with a 3-pointer from the wing. Fells ended the game with 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting, 15 coming after intermission. After a 1-of-10 performance against Northern State, he knew the shots would fall this time out.
"The shots were just open from my teammates," said Fells. "Gavin and the rest of the team were penetrating, and they just kicked out like last game. This time I was able to knock down those shots for us.
"The offense was running perfectly fine the first night, I just wasn't able to knock down a shot because I was thinking about it all the time. Tonight I just said, 'it's just a jumpshot, you know what to do. Just knock down the shot.' I was able to do that for us."
"Those same shots that he missed in the first ballgame, he just made them," added Lowe. "I have to give him a lot of credit because he's been doing extra shooting, staying in the gym and really working on it.
"It came at a perfect time. We needed it. We got some stops, and we needed to make some baskets. He made some big ones for us."
With Fells doing much of the scoring and Grant finding open players for easy baskets, NC State took the eight-point halftime lead and led by as much as 19 at 81-62 with just two minutes remaining. Grant, McCauley, and Brandon Costner were pulled, and St. Augustine's hit some shots late to cut into the lead, but the Pack cruised to the 87-76 victory.
The star of the night was Grant. He finished with 24 points on 5-of-7 shooting (11-of-14 free throws), eight assists, and seven rebounds. At halftime he had 18 points and zero assists, but when he was moved to point guard he responded by scoring another six points and totaling eight assists over the final 20 minutes. His size allows him to see over smaller defenders, so even when teams apply pressure he can find teammates for easy baskets.
Having Grant and Atsur gives Lowe two viable options at the point position.
"[Grant at point guard is] definitely an option because we've got to give Engin a blow," Lowe stated. "He can't play 40 minutes... Gavin will play point for us this year.
"They are different style of players. Engin is going to run the show and get everyone involved. Gavin can do that, but Gavin's looking to attack more. We run plays for Gavin also when he's at the point guard position because he's got a height advantage. We try to take advantage of that."
State also received big contributions from Ben McCauley and Brandon Costner. McCauley totaled 18 points and five boards, showing good scoring ability around the rim and improved athleticism. Costner struggled with his shot, hitting just 2-of-9 from the field, but totaled seven points and a game-high 11 rebounds, including 10 on the defensive end. At 6-foot-8, he has shown the ability to bang around and be physical while helping out on the glass.
"We told our guys that there are so many ways that you can help your team win," said Lowe. "That can be scoring, rebounding, defending, passing the basketball, whatever it might be.
"Brandon has been unbelievable on the boards. He's just killing those boards, and we just told him the rest of it will come. What he's doing right now, and it's so huge for us, is rebounding. We can't replace that so we don't want him to worry about the shot, it will come."
Bryan Nieman added 11 points, and Dennis Horner chipped in four for the Wolfpack.
Fitzgerald finished with 26 as he and Nicholas King, who also scored 26, paced the Falcons.
Following the game, Lowe acknowledged that not only does he instruct his players in the huddle, he listens to them as well.
"It goes back to Coach V... it goes back to coach Sloan, that they allow their players to have some input," said Lowe. "Sometimes no one can see what's going on better out there on the floor then the players. I like it when our players are thinking the game, and they see something out there.
"It doesn't mean that I'm going to do it everytime, but I'm certainly going to listen. I'm certainly going to listen, and if it sounds good absolutely. More importantly, when they make a suggestion, they know what they want to do. When you think that way, most of the time it works out."
With both exhibition games out of the way, NC State must now prepare for this Friday's season opener against Wofford. Lowe is looking forward to the challenge.
"It's time to play," said Lowe. "I'm excited. I'm ready to go.
"We're ready... It's just time. It's that time. It's real now and not that we played these first two games any differently, we certainly wanted to go out and play as hard as we could."