"I was smiling because I thought I traveled and there was still some time left," McCauley said. "I didn't want to get another turnover – but they didn't call it."
Winning makes it a lot easier to smile, as NC State rallied from a 10-point second-half deficit to defeat East Carolina by a 64-57 score on Thursday night at the RBC Center. The win snaps a two-game skid for the Pack (8-4), who had to battle down to the wire against the Pirates (4-7).
Down by two with 3:13 left in the game and the shot clock winding down, Brandon Costner took an off-balance turnaround 3-pointer from the corner. The shot, as impossible as it looked, swished through to give the Pack a 55-54 lead.
"I heard the crowd counting and I looked down at the other end and there was like four seconds [on the shot clock]," Costner said. "So I figured I had to put it up – a H.O.R.S.E. shot."
State would go on a 9-3 run after that, putting the game away at the free-throw line and on the defensive end. McCauley notched the first double-double of his career, leading the Pack with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Gavin Grant, Costner and Fells also finished in double figures with 13, 12 and 10 respectively.
The Wolfpack played short-handed again on Thursday, with only six players seeing action, as freshman Trevor Ferguson missed the game due to the flu. The Pack is also still playing without senior Engin Atsur, who remains sidelined indefinitely with a hamstring injury.
"We're going to see how [Trevor] feels tomorrow," Lowe said. "Hopefully he can play on Saturday."
The Pack, down by six at the half, switched Courtney Fells to the point for the second half. The sophomore, who hasn't played point guard since high school, went to Lowe during the break and requested the switch.
"I told coach that I could see open things and I'd like to do it in the second half," Fells said. "So he let me do it."
The switch paid off immediately, as the Pack started the half with a 13-6 run that knotted the score at 42. The teams traded baskets for the next 10 minutes, with neither team getting more than a four point lead until the Pack pulled away at the end.
Fells played his best all-around game of the season, finishing with 10 points, six rebounds and five assists. He also came up big on the defensive end, blocking a 3-point attempt from East Carolina's Jeremy Ingram with 1:20 left in the game to preserve State's two-point lead. He then calmly marched down the floor and nailed a pull-up jumper to effectively put the game out of reach for the Pirates.
Ingram, a transfer from Wake Forest who entered the game averaging just seven points, came out firing away. He scored 18 points in the first half to help the Pirates build a double-digit lead, but Fells was switched to him in the final 20 minutes and limited the 6-foot-3 guard to just six points.
"The difference in the game was that we started to get patient on offense and turned up the defense," Lowe said. "Having Courtney go in at point guard helped calm things down as well."
The Wolfpack pulled out its eighth win of the season despite another sluggish start. The Pack committed 11 first-half turnovers (13 for the game) and trailed by as much as 15 before ending the half on a 10-2 run.
"They came out and played a hard zone," McCauley said. "They were getting their hands in the passing lanes and disrupting our offense. That's what really slowed us down."