Notebook: Pack Ready for Bearcats

NC State (7-3) is looking to bounce back from Wednesday night's 82-75 loss to No. 10 Alabama. The Pack travels to Cincinnati to face the Bearcats (7-3) in another huge nonconference contest. Tip-off is set for noon and the game is televised nationally on ESPNU.

  • NC State is 0-2 on the road this season, falling in back-to-back games at then-No. 25 Virginia and West Virginia.
  • Brandon Costner leads all ACC rookies in both scoring and rebounding.
  • Engin Atsür has missed each of the last five games, the first action he has missed since he became eligible four games into his freshman season - he'd played in 100 straight.
  • Small forward Gavin Grant is running the point in Atsür's absence.
  • Gavin Grant has played 226 of the possible 234 total minutes since Atsür was hurt.
  • Four Wolfpack players - Gavin Grant, Brandon Costner, Ben McCauley and Courtney Fells- rank in the top five of the ACC in minutes played.
  • Every Wolfpack starter has posted a career-high in terms of scoring this season.

    The Wolfpack will be looking for its first road win of the 2006-07 season, when NC State travels to Cincinnati on Saturday.

    NC State has dropped both of its road affairs thus far this season, losing in back-to-back games at then-No. 25 Virginia and at West Virginia in Charleston.

    The Pack averaged just 61.0 points in those two road games, compared to 78.0 points in the eight home games thus far. A big reason for that was the field goal percentage, 51.8 percent at home compared to 43.7 on the road.

    NC State enters Saturday's match-up at Cincinnati with a perfect 5-0 record versus the Bearcats - even though the two teams have not faced off since the 1958-59 season.

    The Wolfpack is 4-0 in games played in Raleigh, and won the only contest at Cincinnati 77-72 in 1953.

    A local beat writer aptly nicknamed the NC State squad of recent games the "SIX-PACK." That's because NC State had been using as few as a six-man rotation over recent games, but that number rose to seven when redshirt freshman guard Trevor Ferguson made his long-awaited Wolfpack debut against Alabama.

    Ferguson originally signed with Pittsburgh as a freshman, but decided to come to NC State instead. His transfer year ended once the Wolfpack finished final exams, and he dressed for the first time against Alabama.

    Ferguson was impressive in his debut according to Coach Lowe, playing especially well on the defensive end in helping the Pack cut 17 points off the lead. Ferguson came off the bench and played 23 minutes, dishing out five assists while scoring three points.

    It looks like it might be a bit longer before senior point guard Engin Atsür is able to return. He is beginning some limited practice this week, but won't be back against Cincinnati.

    After taking a week off for final exams, NC State is playing three games in eight days. The limited rotation of the Wolfpack won over Mount St. Mary's on Saturday at 3:30 p.m., and fell to No. 10 Alabama at 6:30 on Wednesday. The Pack now heads to Cincinnati for a noon game on Saturday. The team will split up in Cincinnati and head to their homes for Christmas, then will come back to Raleigh for practice on the afternoon of December 26.

    The Wolfpack entered the season with just seven players who came to NC State on scholarship (Bryan Nieman and Braxton Albritton have since awarded a scholarship). One of those seven (Bartosz Lewandowski) suffered a knee injury two games into the season and has been unavailable.

    Another, senior point guard Engin Atsür, has missed the last five games with a hamstring injury, leaving the Pack with just five players who originally came to NC State on scholarship. In each of the last six games, NC State has played no more than seven players. At least one player has played the entire 40 minutes in four of the laast five.

    NC State fought hard to overcome a 23-point deficit (cutting off 17 points), but the Wolfpack came up short and fell at home for the first time this season 82- 75 to No. 10 Alabama on Wednesday night.

    The Crimson Tide built a 68-45 lead with 6:20 to play, but NC State went on a 30-13 run, using a combo of threepointers and forcing turnovers, and was down just six with 21 seconds to play. But the Pack missed two threepointers and turned the ball over twice in trying to force the tie.

    Brandon Costner scored a career-high 25 points, 19 in the second half, and Ben McCauley finished with 24 points and nine boards. Wednesday's contest against 10thranked Alabama marked NC State's second against a ranked team this season. The Wolfpack faced No. 25 Virginia on Dec. 3, falling 62-67 on the Cavs' home court.

    Brandon Costner scored 19 of his career-high 25 points in the Pack's loss to No. 10 Alabama. He also connected on a career-high five three-pointers, including three in the final minute that helped the Pack cut the lead from 23 down to six over the final six minutes.

    Costner has scored in double figures in all 10 games this season, and is averaging 17.2 points while shooting 52.3 percent over the last six games. He leads the team with 13 three-point field goals made.

    The official scorer hasn't had too much to worry about in terms of NC State's substitutions recently. No more than seven players have seen action for the Wolfpack in the last six games. In fact, in the game at West Virginia, four of the six played all 40 minutes of the game.

    The last time NC State was forced to play four players for the entire 40 minutes, was the 1997 ACC Tournament title game against North Carolina, Herb Sendek's first season with the Pack.

    It was a pretty interesting looking boxscore. When perusing the points column from last Saturday's win over Mount St. Mary's, every NC State player who saw action scored in double figures.

    It was a first for NC State, as Courtney Fells and Ben McCauley eached scored 16, Gavin Grant added 15 and Bryan Nieman, Brandon Costner and Dennis Horner all scored 11. The Wolfpack enters the Cincinnati game boasting five double-figure scorers for the season. All five regular starters (including senior Engin Atsür, who has missed the last four-plus games due to an injury), all average 11.9 points or better for the season and three of those players are shooting better than 50% from the field. The Pack boasts three of the ACC's top 13 scorers and two of the top 10 in terms of field goald percentage.

    For the season, NC State is being outrebounded it's opponent (34.6 - 33.7). However, the Pack has not won the rebounding battle in four of the last five contests.

    NC State has edged out just two opponents on the offensive glass this season (Gardner Webb and Michigan) and is getting beat by almost four offensive rebounds per game (12.5 - 8.6). The Wolfpack ranks last in the league in rebounding margin (-0.9), the only team being outrebounded this year, 11th in rebounding (33.7) and last in offensive rebounding (8.60).

    Part of the Wolfpack's struggles on the glass have been due to the fact that one of the team's top rebounders, Gavin Grant, has been playing out of position due to the injury to Engin Atsür. Prior to the Michigan game, NC State outrebounded its opponents by an average of 5.0, and gave up 9.3 offensive boards in those four contests.

    Since Grant moved to guard, the Pack is being outrebounded 2.3 an outing and given up 13.0 offensive rebounds.

    NC State currently boasts four of the top five minutes leaders in the ACC. All five regular starters are averaging 29.6 minutes per game or more (including Engin Atsür, who played just six minutes in the win over Michigan). Two other players averages over 23 minutes (Bryan Nieman and Trevor Ferguson) and one other averages over 18 minutes per game (Dennis Horner). That is basically the end of the Wolfpack's depth.

    Junior Gavin Grant is second in the ACC with 37.5 minutes played per game after nine contests this season. Since Engin Atsür went downsix games ago, Grant has played 226 of the possible 234 total minutes at the point. Grant has played all 40 minutes of four of the Pack's last five outings. That marks the most consecutive complete games for a Wolfpack player since Justin had sixth-straight 40 minutes games to close out the 1996-97 campaign.

    Sophomore Courtney Fells has shown great improvement over the last four games.

    Against West Virginia on Dec. 6, he set a new career scoring high with 17 points, marking the first time this season he has led the Pack in scoring. Fells also pulled down six boards and played the entire 40 minutes in that contest. He tied as the team's leading scorer with 16 on Saturday against Mount St. Mary's, and pitched in with 14 points against No. 10 Alabama.

    In the last four games, Fells is averaging 14.5 points and four rebounds, while shooting 49% from the field and 96% from the foulline.

    Last season Fells played in 17 games, averaging 2.0 points and 7.7 minutes an outing. This season he has started all 10 contests at the two-guard spot, and ranks fifth on the team with 11.9 points. His 33.9 minutes per game rank fourth in the ACC.

    Fells blocked a career-high four shots in the win over Mount St. Mary's.

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