Notebook: Tough Road Test for Pack

NC State (13-8, 3-5) travels to Atlanta tonight to face Georgia Tech (14-8, 3-6). Tip-off is set for 7:00, and the game is televised on RSN.

  • Before last week, the last time NC State had knocked off ranked teams in back to back regular season games was in 1990-91.
  • In a span of four days, the Wolfpack defeated the ACC's first-place team twice!
  • The Wolfpack ranks second in the league in field goal percentage at .495 and has shot .565 in the last two games.
  • The UNC game marked the Wolfpack's fourth against a ranked team in six games.
  • NC State has outrebounded its last two opponents, 73-54.
  • NC State will play five of its last eight regular season games on the road.
  • Senior Engin Atsür became the 39th player in school history to reach the 1,000-point mark last Wednesday. He now has 1,015 points for his career - the 10th-best mark among current ACC players.
  • Brandon Costner leads all ACC rookies in both scoring and rebounding.
  • Brandon Costner's double-figure scoring streak ended at 19 when he had nine points at Va. Tech. His streak was the ACC's third-longest when it ended.

    Tuesday's matchup will mark the 81st meeting between NC State and Georgia Tech. The Wolfpack leads the overall series 48-32. NC State has won the last 10 games against Georgia Tech in Raleigh, 12 of the last 14. The last time State dropped a home game to GT was on Jan. 24, 1996. The story in Atlanta is slightly different, however, as Tech holds a 19-13 advantage there. However, the Pack has won two of the last three games at Alexander Memorial.

    Although the Wolfpack has won seven of the last eights games against Georgia Tech, the scores of those games have been relatively close. NC State's largest win in those seven games was a 10-pointer in Atlanta in 2004 and the average margin of victory in those eight games was six points. The Wolfpack won by nine in Raleigh on January 14 of last year, then lost by three in Atlanta on Feb. 12. In 2004-05, NC State won by two in Atlanta and by eight at home.

    NC State turned a lot of heads when it knocked off 16th-ranked Virginia Tech on its home court last Wednesday. Those heads started spinning when Sidney Lowe's Wolfpack followed that with an upset of third-ranked North Carolina on Saturday.

    Those victories marked the first time since 1990-91 that NC State had won back-to-back games versus ranked teams in the regular season. That year, Les Robinson's Wolfpack squad defeated No. 23 Georgia Tech in Atlanta (79-73) on Feb. 3 and then knocked off ninth-ranked North Carolina in Reynolds Coliseum on Feb. 6 (97-91).

    It marked the first time the Wolfpack has knocked off top 20 teams in consecutive games (regular season or not) since 1984-85, when Jim Valvano's squad defeated No. 13 UNC (85-76) on Feb. 16, then won over No. 6 Duke, 70-66, on Feb. 20.

    In a game that boasted several candidates for ACC Rookie of the Year, NC State's Brandon Costner made an emphatic statement that he should be considered for the honor in the Wolfpack's win over third-ranked UNC. Costner posted his sixth double-double of the season in the win over the Tar Heels, double the total of any other league rookie and the second highest total among all ACC players. He tallied 15 points and 11 rebounds in the contest and continues to lead ALL league rookies in scoring (16.2 ppg, 9th in ACC) and rebounding (8.1 rpg, third in ACC).

    Costner has scored in double figures in 20 games this season to lead the team. He broke a 19-game double-figure scoring streak (the third-longest in the ACC at the time) when he scored just nine points at Virginia Tech. Costner etched his name into the Wolfpack single-game record books on December 30 - posting his third career double-double ... BEFORE HALFTIME!!! He went on to finish with career-highs of 27 points and 19 rebounds in the win. Those 19 caroms set an NC State freshman record and were the most for a Wolfpack player regardless of class since Todd Fuller had 21 on Nov. 25, 1995. That was also the highest rebounding total for an ACC player this season. Costner's point total tied as the fourth-most ever for a Pack rookie.

    NC State has now moved into second place in the ACC in team field goal percentage with a .495 mark. In the last two games, both Wolfpack wins against ranked opponents, the squad has hit .565 from the field (52-92).

    NC State shot .765 from the field in the second half of Saturday's win over third-ranked UNC, the highest shooting percentage for the Wolfpack in a half in 20 years. The last time an NC State squad shot that well in a half was on Feb. 25, 1987, when the Pack shot .778 (14-18) against Maryland in an 85-72 win.

    The Wolfpack has shot 50% or better in 11 games this season, and has shot better than 60% three times. Prior to last week's win at Virginia Tech, NC State had dropped two straight games, in large part to its lack of offense. The Pack scored just 114 points combined (57.0 avg.) in losses to No. 14 Duke and Virginia.

    Those low scoring outputs were directly related to the team's shooting percentage. NC State had its two worse shooting performances of the season in those two games, hitting just 32.7 percent (34-104) over the two games.

    Three Wolfpack players are currently shooting 53% or better from the field (Ben McCauley, Engin Atsür, and Dennis Horner) and four of the five starters are shooting 45% or better McCauley currently ranks third in the league with a .600 mark.

    The win over North Carolina wasn't the first time this season that every starter for the Wolfpack had reached double-figure scoring totals, but it was certainly the first time it had happened against such a talented opponent.

    All five starters have scored in double-digits four times now this season - against the Tar Heels, Wake Forest, Mount St. Mary's and Delaware State. Of course, all four of those games were NC State wins. The Wolfpack's five regular starters have averaged double-figure scoring totals throughout the 2006-07 campaign.

    Although there is still plenty of basketball left to be played, if all five were still averaging double figures at the end of the season, it would be the first time since 1977-78 that NC State has had five players average double-figures.

    What a difference having Engin Atsür back in the lineup has made for NC State.

    Although he's played in the last three games, the Pack's senior point guard has really just been back to what he considers game-shape in the last two (NC State had a week off between the Virginia and Virginia Tech games for him to take a rest). In the last two games (both wins over ranked teams), Atsür's numbers have definitely been respectable. He's scored in double figures in both (for the first time since Nov. 24), and has shot .500 from the field (7-14). He went 7-7 from the line against UNC and tied his career high with 10 assists for the first double-double of his career.

    But it's the things that don't show up on the stat sheet that has meant the most to NC State since Atsür's return. It's his calm, experienced leadership running the point. It's his willingness to throw his still-injured body to the floor after a loose ball. It's the way he can break the press late in the game. It's the way that his teammates (Gavin Grant and Courtney Fells) are both able to play their natural positions again, where they have both been more effective.

    Atsür should start his 100th career game at Georgia Tech, becoming only the seventh player in school history to ever start 100 or more games for a career.

    The numbers aren't good. The Wolfpack ranks 11th in the ACC in rebounding margin (-0.1), 11th in rebounding (33.8), and last in offensive rebounds (8.67). But somebody forgot to remind the Pack of that negative statistic before the last two games.

    Against 16th-ranked Virginia Tech and third-ranked North Carolina, the Wolfpack posted a 73-54 rebounding advantage - the only times all year the Pack has outrebounded conference opponents.

    NC State has edged out just three opponents on the offensive glass this season (Gardner Webb, Michigan and Virginia) and is getting beat by almost three and half offensive boards a game (12.1 - 8.7).

    Saturday's game against third-ranked North Carolina marked the fourth time in six games that NC state had faced an opponent ranked in the top 25. NC State brought home Sidney Lowe's first win over a ranked team last week, as the Pack handed 16th-ranked Virginia Tech its first home loss of the season and only its second ACC loss.

    NC State is now 2-4 against ranked competition thus far - losing to No. 25 Virginia in Charlottesville by five (62-67), to 10th-ranked Alabama (75-82), to No. 17 Clemson (76-87) and to 14th-ranked Duke, 56-79 and then defeating 16th-ranked Virginia Tech 70-59 and third-ranked UNC, 83-79.

    After playing five of its first seven league games at home, the Wolfpack won't even need to unpack its bags in the next month. NC State will play five of its next eight games on the road and then head to Tampa for the ACC Tournament.

    This week, NC State plays at Georgia Tech and Miami, comes home for back-to-back games versus Maryland and Virginia Teach, then goes to UNC, Florida State, comes home for Wake Forest and then ends the regular season at Maryland before heading to Tampa for the ACC Tournament.

    NC State has fared pretty well so far on the road in ACC games this season, posting the best winning percentage (.667) of any ACC team in its league road games.

    After losing at Virginia in early December, the Pack won its second league road game at Wake Forest and last Wednesday became the first team to defeat then-16th-ranked Virginia Tech in Cassel Coliseum.

    Although no one anticipated that it would take until the 20th game of the season to happen, senior point Engin Atsür finally broke the 1000-point total for his career with 14 points in the win at 16th-ranked Virginia Tech. Atsür now boast 1,015 points for his career and is the 39th player in school history to accomplish that feat.

    Atsür has missed 12 of the Wolfpack's 21 games this season because a hamstring injury. He played in the FIBA World Championships over the summer and did not return to school until the first week of September. He sat out of the team's preseason skill workouts (he had basically played two complete seasons!) and battled tendonitis in his achilles throughout the preseason.

    Through the first five games of the season, Atsür was averaging 17.3 points and 35.5 minutes per game. Just six minutes into the Michigan game, however, he suffered a hamstring injury, which very well could have been caused by the original problem with the achilles, and missed the next nine games.

    Finally, on January 6, Atsür was able to get back on the court against Boston College. He came back and played a surprising 31 minutes in his 96th career start, and although he didn't connect in four shot attempts, he did manage to dish out a career-high 10 assists (to just one turnover). Although he complained that his stamina was not where he wanted it to be, it seemed that the injury was behind him.

    The very next day in practice, however, Atsür RE-injured the leg and went on to miss three straight contests.

    Perhaps the most impressive player for NC State over the last five games has been sophomore Courtney Fells.

    Fells has scored in double figures in each of those contests, averaging 15.2 points. In two of those contests he has scored 20 or more points, including a career-high of 21 points in the win over third-ranked North Carolina. Fells recorded his first career double-double on Jan. 24 versus Virginia, when he scored 11 points and had a career-best 10 boards.

    A long, lanky player, Fells silenced the sold-out crowd at Cassell Coliseum at Virginia Tech with a coast-to-coast dunk - he left the ground around the foulline. Against UNC he made four three-pointers.

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