Hickson's 31 Leads Pack Past Tribe, 66-47

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Super frosh J.J. Hickson put together one of the most memorable debuts in NC State history, notching 31 points on a perfect 12-for-12 effort from the field to spur the Wolfpack to a 66-47 victory over a feisty William & Mary team in the regular-season opener.

Hickson added seven rebounds, one assist and a blocked shot in 31 minutes, and he was complemented by teammates Courtney Fells (10 points, five rebounds and two blocks) and Brandon Costner (13 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots). The Pack overcame a dismal 5-for-24 performance from the three-point line, which helped contribute to a subpar shooting effort of 44.4 percent (24-54).

The contest was back and forth from the start, with the Wolfpack struggling from the perimeter against an active William & Mary zone defense. The game got off to a slow start, with the referees calling a combined 14 fouls in the first 11 minutes. State fell behind, 21-20, with 9:04 left in the half, but then held the visiting Tribe without a field goal for 18 straight possessions. William & Mary missed its final 11 shots of the half, including 0-6 from the three-point line, while the Pack reeled off a 19-5 run to forge a 13-point lead, 39-25, going into intermission. Hickson led the way at the break with 14 points in 15 minutes, with Costner adding 10 points, seven boards and three assists in the opening 20 minutes.

NC State started the second half in sluggish fashion. After opening up a 16-point advantage, 47-31, on a Hickson layup, the Wolfpack allowed a 13-2 run by the visitors. With State clinging to a five-point lead, 49-44, Costner ended a lengthy Pack drought with a long three-pointer. The bomb jumpstarted a 10-0 Pack spurt, and the Tribe never recovered.

As the Wolfpack pulled away, Hickson put his stamp on the contest with an unstoppable spin move that led to a three-point play, followed by a layup off an offensive rebound, a defensive carom and an assist. After a "J.J. Hickson" chant from the student section, the rookie left the game to a rousing ovation with 56.5 seconds remaining, earning a hug from coach Sidney Lowe. Hickson helped the Pack to a 36-16 advantage in the paint and a 42-33 victory on the boards, highlighted by 14 offensive caroms as a team.

While Hickson was unquestionably the story for State, Lowe was actually unhappy that his squad didn't feed the big man even more. The coach expressed his dissatisfaction with the team's shot selection, saying that 24 three-pointers was way too many for an offense that works best from the inside out.

Hickson earned the start in his first regular-season game, relegating Ben McCauley to the bench. The junior faced some foul trouble in the first half, and contributed just two points, one rebound and a blocked shot in 14 minutes. However, Lowe cautioned that it was just a single game, and not to read anything into the allocation of minutes and the way the rotation unfolded. He said that he has "six starters" this year with McCauley, and that both McCauley and freshman Tracy Smith (one minute) will have larger roles in future contests.

Along with Hickson, Costner and Fells, Gavin Grant and Farnold Degand rounded out the starting lineup. Grant suffered through a difficult shooting night, missing eight of his 10 shots while registering four points, five rebounds and a game-high five assists in 33 minutes. In his first regular-season game, Degand notched two points, five boards, two assists and two steals in 28 minutes.

Off the bench, Trevor Ferguson drained a three-pointer in his 10 minutes, while Javy Gonzalez had a point and a steal in 12 minutes in his first outing the Red and White. Dennis Horner had a key blocked shot in his seven minutes, while Simon Harris got a minute of action in garbage time.

Overall, Lowe was encouraged by his team's play against a William & Mary team that put a big scare into fifth-ranked Georgetown this past Saturday. Coming out of this game, the Wolfpack is likely to work on zone offense, ball movement and defending backdoor cuts as they prepare for their next game, at home against New Orleans on Sunday, November 18, at 6:30 p.m. (ESPN2).

But no matter what the Pack takes out of this one, the night belonged to Hickson, who earned his coach's hug — and a place among the most impressive freshmen in the history of NC State.

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