Shaky Pack gets fifth straight win

The Pack trailed by nine points at halftime and never gained complete control of the game, but managed to sneak by Western Carolina 74-62 thanks to a 33 point, 13 rebound performance from freshman J.J. Hickson.

Trailing by nine points at the half to an inferior Western Carolina team, Sidney Lowe's message was short.

"Defend," Lowe said. "If you don't defend you are going to have to come out of the game. It was real simple."

NC State followed its coach's orders, holding the Catamounts to 24 percent shooting and just 21 points in the second half as the Wolfpack rallied from behind to pull out a 74-62 win on Saturday afternoon at the RBC Center. J.J. Hickson was an unstoppable force for the Pack, scoring 33 points on 10-of-11 shooting, hitting 13-of-16 free throws and pulling down 13 rebounds.

"Once he gets the ball around the hoop he's going to make it," junior Ben McCauley said. "When they fouled him, he's been working on his free throws so he made he's free throws too."

Hickson was the key to the Pack picking up its fifth-straight win. The freshman ran the floor, worked hard for position inside and used his considerable size advantage to dominate the Western Carolina defenders. His 33 points were a career high and his 13 rebounds also tie a career high during his short NC State career.

"I give a lot of that credit to his teammates," Lowe said. "The fact that they looked for him, the found him. They knew he had an advantage down there and they were patient enough – we had some opportunities where we had some outside shots but we turned them down to look inside."

The Pack came out of the gate looking sluggish and uninterested. The team turned the ball over on its first five possession and didn't even attempt a shot for the first three minutes of the game.

"We took this team for granted and it showed in the first half," Hickson said.

The Catamounts did the Pack no favors early on, hitting 7-of-10 from behind the arc in the first half and shooting 50 percent from the floor. They committed just two first-half turnovers while the Pack racked up 11 giveaways as it fell behind early and never put together any kind of run in the half.

"Turnovers were a major problem in the first half. We have to take our time and get the ball to the open man," Hickson said.

The Pack came out with a defensive mindset in the second half, shutting down the Catamounts outside shooting while looking to Hickson down low for easy points. The Pack clawed its way back, taking the lead for the first time with 11:35 remaining in the game.

"We came out with good energy and with good energy off our bench," Lowe said. "We had some guys off our bench actually finish the game for us."

Brandon Costner was one of two other Wolfpack players in double-figures - putting together a 10 point, seven assist, five rebound performance. McCauley had his second straight double-figure game off the bench for the Pack, scoring 12 points and going a perfect 6-for-6 from the free-throw line.

"At the start of this winning streak, coach Lowe basically came up to me and said at the 16-minute mark, you're going in," McCauley said. "That helped me because I know when I'm going in and its kind of like that's my starting time. That really helped me out."

Once again the Pack failed to blow out a team that looked like a cupcake on paper. State has only beaten one team by more than 20 points all season, a 74-49 win over South Carolina State that started the team's five-game winning streak.

"We didn't realize that Western Carolina was a good team like they were," McCauley said. "Once we realized what we had to do at halftime and we realized how to play NC State basketball we came out and did what we had to do."

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