Justin Clark, a walk-on who started only because it was Senior Day, walked onto the court with a grand total of five career minutes played. He left to a standing ovation, a chant of 'Justin Clark', and with a story to tell his grandkids.
"I wasn't sure if I was starting – they let me know 15 minutes before the game," Clark said. "I was a little surprised, but I was ready for it."
Clark was more than just ready - playing 22 minutes and recording a career high in, well, everything. He took his first career shot, scored his first career points and got the first rebound, steal and assist of his career. He finished with six points on a perfect 3-of-3 from the field as the Wolfpack dispatched visiting Wake Forest, 73-66 on Wednesday night at the RBC Center.
"We don't win tonight without Justin Clark," coach Sidney Lowe said.
Engin Atsur, playing what could be his final home game after a stellar four-year career with the Pack (15-13, 5-10 ACC), sat for a large portion of the second half after picking up his fourth foul against the Deacons (13-15, 4-11). The senior guard finished with eight points and got a rousing ovation from those left in the crowd when he walked off the court with three seconds left in the game.
"It's kind of sad to be honest," Atsur said. "But my teammates got it done tonight, and I'm just thankful for all the good memories I have at NC State."
With the win, the Pack is assured of a winning regular season. A likely scenario has the Pack returning to the RBC Center for an NIT tournament game, but Atsur said that's not on his mind right now.
"I don't want to play in the NIT," Atsur said. "But if we have to I'll be here, but we've got Maryland first and then Tampa."
Brandon Costner, coming off the bench for the first time all year, scored a game high 19 points thanks mostly to a 10-of-11 performance from the line. Ben McCauley added 17 points and seven rebounds while Gavin Grant had 13 points and eight rebounds.
"We went to Costner quite a bit," Lowe said. "We wanted to work through him and he carried the load quite a bit."
The Pack led for all but the first minute of play, jumping out to a quick double-digit lead as Grant and McCauley got the offense rolling. State scored on eight of its first 10 possessions and led by as many as 12 points in the first half.
The Deacons shot atrociously in the half, shooting 28 percent from the field and just 13 percent from behind the arc while the Pack shot 56 percent. The Deacons avoided an early blowout by collecting 11 offensive rebounds and scoring 10 second-chance points. State used a 13-6 run at the end of the half to take a 37-26 lead into the locker room.
Wake made a run in the second half after Atsur went to the bench with four fouls and 12:30 left in the game. The Deacons cut the lead to six before a Courtney Fells 3-pointer snapped the Pack out of its collective lull. From that point the Wolfpack fed the ball inside to Costner, who scored eight of the Pack's next 10 points to help complete the season sweep of the Deacons.