Pack hangs on to down Hokies

NC State led from wire-to-wire on Tuesday night at the RBC Center, picking up a 73-63 win at the halfway point of the conference season. J.J. Hickson led the way with a 21-point performance.

RALEIGH, NC -- NC State came out with an intensity it hasn't show all season, jumping out to a 19-point first half lead and giving head coach Sidney Lowe a chance to breath a little easier.

"It felt good to be able to site down," Lowe said. "Watch the guys just work out there and execute, defend the way they did. That felt good. And I felt good for our players that the defense and the hustle we came out there with paid off."

But Lowe wasn't able to sit the whole game, as Virginia Tech spent the second half chipping away at the deficit - getting as close as five points a minute remaining. The Wolfpack hit its free-throws in the final minute though, holding on for a 73-63 win over Virginia Tech on Tuesday night at the RBC Center. The win lifts the Pack to a 4-4 conference record at the halfway mark, lifting the team to a fourth-place tie with Maryland in the ACC standings.

"Right now we are sitting in a good situation I think," Lowe said. "We fought our way back to .500 and we talked about it when we were 2-4 that if we win that Wake Forest game we have a chance to bump up a notch or two then come back and get Virginia Tech and we can move up again."

J.J. Hickson led the Wolfpack with a 21-point effort, with 14 of those points coming from the charity stripe. The Pack won without the services of sophomore Brandon Costner, who suffered a bruised rib in a Monday practice session. X-rays were taken and came back negative, and Lowe said he hopes a few days off will have the forward ready for the Pack's next game.

"He tried to go during practice today but he was just in too much pain," Lowe said. "Hopefully tomorrow off then Thursday pretty much off for him, hopefully he'll be able to play up at Maryland."

Turnovers became a major issue during the second half as the Pack clung to its ever-shrinking lead. State kept giving the ball away leading to fast break points for the Hokie offense, which scored 13 points in the open court.

"We were just being lazy," point guard Javi Gonzalez said. "When we were setting screens we were just being lethargic with the ball on defense and offense. That was what hurt us."

Apart from Hickson, three other Pack players registered double digits in the game. Courtney Fells scored 14 points, Gavin Grant added 11 and Gonzalez registered a career high with 11 points while also leading the team with five rebounds. Dennis Horner, who finished with eight points, said Gonzalez's improvement during ACC play has been tremendous.

"You can see – its huge," Horner said. "He's finally getting used to the ACC now, starting to get more comfortable with his roll on the team. We have a couple of freshman that are getting used to the play. We are coming together as a team now – playing a little bit harder, harder defense, more hustle. It's working out right now."

The Pack jumped all over Virginia Tech from the opening tip, jumping out to a 13-2 lead and building from there. A 9-0 run soon after gave the Pack its biggest lead of the half at 27-8, and the Hokies slowly clawed back from there. Eight points from center Jeff Allen helped Tech pull within 14 points, taking a 37-23 deficit into the locker room.

"It's a great feeling to know that we finally came out in a first half and got a big lead like that," Horner said. "And to know that we can hold it for the rest of the game."

Holding onto that lead wasn't easy, though. The Hokies slowly climbed back into the game, whittling the lead down bit by bit. When Malcolm Delaney hit a jumper to make it 52-43 with just over nine minutes remaining, the Pack lead was cut below double-digits for the first time since it was 16-8 with 8:29 left in the first half. The lead would shrink to seven before a Fells 3-pointer stemmed the tide and brought some stability back to the NC State offense.

"I thought our guys made the plays when they had to," Lowe said. "They made their run and our guys made the plays to stop the bleeding. We were fortunate to go on and win the ballgame."

The Pack did the rest of its work from the free-throw line, scoring only one more field goal after Fells' shot but hitting enough free throws to put the game away. Hickson did most of the work late, finishing13-of-17 despite an early airball on a foul shot in the first half.

"Everything except for that airball I was feeling comfortable," Hickson said. "But I have to concentrate – I should have gone 17-for-17."

The Pack will start the second half of its conference schedule with two tough road games – starting with a trip to College Park to face Maryland this weekend.

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