State wins a nail-biter against USC, 63-61

ORLANDO, FL -- For the second straight day, it was another fight for NC State – and this time it came down to the wire.

Fortunately, it was the Wolfpack that came away with the win – a 63-61 barn-burner that propelled the Pack to the championship game of the Old Spice Classic in Orlando.

Brandon Costner overcame some serious foul trouble to lead the Pack with 21 points on 6 of 12 shooting from the field and a perfect 6 of 6 from the free throw line. Point guard Farnold Degand turned in perhaps his best performance of the young season, finishing with 14 points and three assists while holding South Carolina star guard to only 12 points on 5 for 17 shooting. J.J. Hickson came of the bench to add nine points and eight rebounds, and while Courtney Fells had a sub-par performance offensively, he also contributed eight timely rebounds, including one on South Carolina's last possession of the game to seal the win for the Wolfpack.

"I thought this was a big win for our team," said Coach Sidney Lowe. "We had a lot of people that stepped up for us. We had a lot of energy, and our guys played really well. We took a step in the right direction to finish the game off like this against a team like this."

The first half was characterized by a great deal of sloppy play on both sides, with State racking up 10 turnovers. The Gamecocks were very active under the basket, denying the State post players every opportunity. With the Pack unable to get its inside game going, they relied more upon motion offensive plays. Degand, who led the Pack at the break with nine points, tried his best to push the tempo, driving the lane and often drawing defenders.

As the lead went back and forth early on, the Gamecocks harassed State's backcourt often and they eventually started to take control near the end of the half. After Costner hit a three to pull State within a point with six seconds left in the half, South Carolina's Devan Downey launched a 35-footer at the buzzer to give the Gamecocks a 29-25 lead at the break.

But State was able to grab the lead back early in the second half behind a couple of three-pointers from Costner, but the Gamecocks' speed and aggressiveness made it a see-saw match with teams trading buckets for the next several minutes.

Consecutive three pointers by South Carolina at the nine minute mark of the second half put the Gamecocks up 49-40. But the Pack continued to push and with about four minutes remaining, they finally grabbed the lead back 53-51 behind a couple of free throws from Costner not long after picking up his fourth foul.

The Pack seemed to keep South Carolina's Downey (who came in averaging over 20 ppg) from dominating the game – and most of that was due to the strong game by Degand.

"Against a guy like that, I think Farnold and Javi (Gonzalez) did an unbelievable job of chasing him around and the rest of the team making things tough for him," said Lowe. "He hit some tough shots, but we still made him work for it. This guy (Downey) is one of the best guards in the country, and Farnold played with him the entire game. This is big for him and his confidence."

The Pack forced the Gamecocks into committing crucial fouls down the stretch, and Costner and Degand made them pay for it by hitting several foul shots to keep the Pack on top. South Carolina had one more chance to tie the game with under 20 seconds to go, but Downey's shot bounced long off the rim and into the waiting hands of Fells, who pushed it down the floor and helped the Pack hold on for the win.

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