NC State overcame a slow start to put away a scrappy Gardner-Webb squad, taking control in the second to secure the 88-76 victory, and push its record to 4-0 this season.
When the game started, it looked like NC State must have been still recovering from all that Thanksgiving turkey, because early on, only one team looked hungry, and it wasn't the Wolfpack.
Gardner-Webb jumped out to a 9-2 lead, and then made the home crowd restlesss when it went into halftime with a 36-33 lead. NC State looked sluggish and tentative early on, missing open layups on offense and surrending many open looks on defense, enabling the Runnin' Bulldogs to bury seven of 14 threes in the half.
If not for the fighting effort of Engin Atsur, who manufactured nearly half of the Pack's points in the period, making 6 of 8 for 16 of his game-high 26 points, the deficit at halftime would have been much worse for NC State. Aside from Atsur, the rest of the Pack only shot 36% in the opening period, while Gardner-Webb converted 45% of its opportunities.
In the first half, the Runnin' Bulldogs, who are 0-4 including a 103-50 loss to UNC this season, bottled up NC State's transition game by racing back on defense, limiting the Pack to only two fast break points. NC State's inside duo of Ben McCauley and Brandon Costner had difficulty finishing inside, and a tightly refereed game, featuring several palming and traveling violations on both sides, also worked to slow the game's pace. NC State also struggled at the line, failing to take advantage of an 8-to-1 free throw attempt advantage, missing five free throws, including three front ends of one-and-ones.
As expected, a more aggressive Wolfpack opened the second half. NC State started fast and focused, surging for 21 points in the opening six minutes to take a 54-46 lead. The 21-10 run was spurred by dogged man defense, and highlighted by nine points from Gavin Grant and six points in the paint from McCauley. Back-to-back threes from Courtney Fells would cap the rally and force a Gardner-Webb timeout. Fells and McCauley only combined for two points in the first half, but Fells would finish with eight points on 3 of 6 shooting, and McCauley would finish with 14 points on 7 of 10 shooting to go with a game-high six rebounds.
As the half progressed, Grant continued to assert himself on offense, and helped the Pack continue to pull away. Grant tallied 15 points in the second half, finishing with 23 points on 9 of 15 shooting. The Wolfpack maintained its high level of energy, and when Costner wrestled away a rebound from three Bulldogs, muscled up the lay-in with a loud scream, and then Atsur followed with a three, the Wolfpack found itself with an 80-60 lead with 4:20 remaining, and the game firmly in hand. Costner would lead all players with 11 rebounds to go with his 11 points, and is now averaging close to eight a game. Indeed, the Wolfpack dominated the undersized Bulldogs on the glass, compiling a 36-22 rebounding advantage.
For the game, NC State made 55% of its shots, and is now shooting 55% on the season. Also consistent with the team's play thus far, NC State shared the ball effectively, totaling 20 assists, its third game with 20 or more assists. The Pack protected the ball as well, its third game with 13 or fewer turnovers. However, after holding opponents to only 41% shooting this year, the Pack let Gardner-Webb make 54% of its shots, including 42% from deep.
NC State will next have to prepare for its toughest test of the season, as it faces undefeated Michigan in the ACC-Big 10 challenge at 7 pm on Monday night.