The teams exchanged leads eight times in the first 13 minutes of the contest, with Valpo working the ball inside, rotating frontcourt players that measured 7-1, 6-9, 6-8 and 6-8. State held its own on the boards, but could not find its rhythm on either end of the court. After the Crusaders used a 7-0 run to grab the lead, 27-26, with 7:02 left in the half, coach Sidney Lowe angrily called a timeout. His players listened and listened well, reeling off 15 straight points on the way to grabbing a 12-point halftime lead, 41-29. Fells paced the Pack in the opening stanza with 11 points, while Grant (10 points, six caroms), Costner (seven points, four rebounds, three assists) and senior Engin Atsur (seven points, six boards, three assists and two steals) also made significant contributions. NC State couldn't find the range from downtown in the first 20 minutes, misfiring on nine of 11 three balls, but did manage to hold Valpo to 29 percent shooting (9-31) and win the rebounding battle (22-19). Lowe's crew also dominated in points in the paint (20-6), points off turnovers (14-2) and fastbreak points (6-0).
The Wolfpack didn't slow down after intermission. State added 10 more unanswered points before the Crusaders called for a timeout with 16:46 remaining in the contest. Valparaiso trailed by 22 points, 51-29, and the Pack had put together a powerful stretch of play -- scoring an incredible 25 of 27 points following Lowe's first-half timeout. NC State would lead by as many as 29 points, pushing the score to 70-41 after a strong drive and left-handed finish by sophomore Ben McCauley (six points, four rebounds, three assists, one steal before fouling out in 23 minutes). Fells left the game with a little more than eight and a half minutes to play and did not return, after it appeared that he might have tweaked his ankle slightly. To Lowe's disappointment, the Pack finished in sloppy fashion, allowing Valpo to finish the game on a 23-8 run to make the final margin more respectable at 14 points.
The State defense has improved every time out, and despite some late defensive lapses, only let the Crusaders shoot 36.7 percent (22-60) from the floor. NC State forced 13 turnovers while committing 10, and also controlled the boards, 42-36. The pace of the game was stymied in a big way by a host of foul calls, with a total of 45 personals called and 45 free throws shot. Surprisingly, the Wolfpack more than held its own against the bigger Crusaders, winning the points in the paint by 20, 36-16. The Pack also got out and ran when it created opportunities, establishing huge advantages in fastbreak points (15-2) and points off turnovers (21-9).
Grant, Costner and Fells led the way, but Atsur put together another solid all-around game (nine points, eight rebounds, six assists, three steals, one blocked shot and two turnovers) despite being pressed full-court for some of the game and playing 32 minutes. Freshman Dennis Horner also played an integral role off the bench, notching seven points and five rebounds in 20 minutes, while knocking down three of his four shots, including a three-pointer.
Following the contest, Lowe lauded his team's ball movement and noted that, early in the game, his players were not closing out on Valpo's perimeter shooters well enough. He said that when the Pack was able to force some turnovers and get some easy buckets, a few players found their rhythm and got the Wolfpack steamrolling. On a down note, Lowe did reveal that 7-3 freshman center Bartosz Lewandowski had suffered a minor knee injury. He said that there didn't appear to be any major structural damage -- refusing to get into the particulars of the setback -- but did say that Lewandowski would be out for "a while." Lewandowski was not expected to play a large role this season, having played just a single minute in NC State's first two outings, but his loss further hampers an already-thin team. That's one reason why it was important that Fells was able to rest for the final few minutes and not risk more serious damage.
The 3-0 Pack will enjoy a brief Thanksgiving holiday before heading back to the RBC Center for a 7 p.m. game against Gardner Webb on Friday, Nov. 24.