If the Wolfpack was feeling the ill effects of 165 minutes of basketball since last Thursday, it didn't show. The No. 6 seed Pack erased a late deficit on Tuesday night to take down No. 3 seed Drexel by a 63-56 score in the opening round of the NIT in Philadelphia.
With just over a minute left in the game and the Pack (19-15) holding a slim one-point advantage, Brandon Costner delivered another spectacular play. Costner took the ball on the left sideline and shook off his man with a quick spin move to his left, driving to the basket for a lay-up and drawing a foul. The freshman All-ACC performer sank the ensuing free-throw to give the Pack a four-point cushion.
After a Drexel (23-9) bucket cut the lead back to two, Ben McCauley delivered a spinning lay-in to extend the lead to four. A few Dragon misses and Engin Atsur free throws later, and the Pack was moving on to the second round of the NIT. The Pack faces the winner of the Oklahoma-State and Marist game later this evening.
The Pack put together another phenomenal shooting performance, hitting on 50 percent of its shots while Drexel hit 42 percent. The Dragons struggled from behind the 3-point arc, hitting just 23 percent of its shots while the Wolfpack shot 42 percent from 3-point territory.
Despite the hot shooting, the Pack tied its worst scoring performance in a win all season, matching a 63-point output in its victor over Delaware State in the second game of the season. The slow pace of the game benefited a Wolfpack team that had seen plenty of game action over the last week.
Atsur led the way for the Pack despite still being bothered by a hamstring injury he re-injured on Saturday in the Wolfpack's win over Virginia Tech. The senior point guard led the Pack with 18 points on 5-of-9 shooting, driving to the basket against the Dragons despite his sore hamstring.
McCauley picked up a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds, while Gavin Grant and Courtney Fells added 10 points each. Costner, the only other player to score for the Pack, had nine points.
Frank Elegar led all scorers for the Dragons, scoring 24 points on 10-of-12 shooting but hitting just 4-of-12 from the free-throw line. The Pack put Elegar on the line repeatedly late in the second half, forcing the powerful big man to earn his points from the charity stripe. Dominick Mejia, who played one year at NC State before transferring, added 11 points but shot just 29 percent from the field.
Drexel jumped out to a quick 11-point lead as the Pack missed its first five shots from the field while the Dragons hit on 7-of-9 to start the game. State slowly chipped away at the deficit, getting as close as two points several times in the half but never able to get over the hump and take the lead – taking a 28-26 lead into the half.
The Pack wouldn't break through until the 13-minute mark of the second half, when a Ben McCauley bucket made the score 36-35 in favor of the Wolfpack. The Pack went on a quick 7-0 run to take a six-point lead over the Dragons, but Drexel answered back with a 14-4 run of its own to retake the lead before the Pack rallied down the stretch.