North Carolina Central made a few runs, but overall the Wolfpack dominated an undersized and overwhelmed team that's in just its second year of play at basketball's highest collegiate level. Against a two-win team, the Wolfpack cruised to a 87-59 victory on Tuesday night at the RBC Center.
"I just like the fact that we were able to play," coach Sidney Lowe said. "Last year we had a couple of times where we had a week off and then the next game that we played we were very sluggish. Hopefully we got something out of this game in terms of just playing and trying to stay sharp."
Brandon Costner led the way with 25 points and 13 rebounds for the Pack. McCauley also notched a double-double, scoring 17 points and nabbing 12 rebounds. Overall the Pack out-rebounded the Eagles by an unbelievable 54-14 margin, the biggest margin since 1975 for the Pack. Courtney Fells was the only other player in double figures with 15, but Johnny Thomas scored a career-high nine points off the bench including two spectacular dunks.
"That's my game," Thomas said. "I play in the air. I'm starting to get used to what I did to my knee, I'm starting to come back from that."
Farnold Degand started but played just three minutes as Lowe said the junior guard's knee was giving him trouble and decided to rest him for most of the game. Freshman CJ Williams was the only scholarship player not to play, which Lowe said was his decision.
The team enters February with a win and hopes to put a hard-luck January behind it. The month started with a last-second loss at Florida and never got much better, with a pair of overtime wins buoying six losses. All but the Florida loss were double-digit defeats at the hands of conference opponents.
The game almost halves the ACC schedule for the Pack. Their eighth conference game comes this Sunday at Virginia Tech, as they'll try to improve on their 2-5 start in league play. The Pack went 4-4 in the first half of last season only to suffer a complete collapse, losing nine straight games against conference opposition.
"It's a tough game, especially in the middle of the ACC season to throw this in there," McCauley said. "But its good to get some guys that don't play as much in there for some time. It was just a good momentum builder."
The Pack opened the game by unexpectedly falling behind, looking as bored as the fans in the attendance as the Eagles jumped to a 10-2 advantage. A quick timeout by Lowe snapped his players back into attention and they rolled for most of the half, leading by as much as 20 on a barrage of dunks and wide open 3-pointers.
The Eagles shot well in the first half but were non-existent on the boards, as the smallest in Division I basketball got out-rebounded 23-8. Fells led the way with 15 points on 3-for-5 shooting from behind the arc, throwing in a few highlight reel dunks for good measure. The Pack stumbled a bit towards the end of the half, allowing a few open 3-pointers to cut the lead down to 46-36 going into the locker room.
"We came out pretty lax in the first half, we definitely didn't have enough energy or play the way we needed to," Costner said.
The Pack played even with the Eagles at the outset of the second frame, as Jamar Briscoe carried the offense for the visiting team by scoring 12 quick points in the opening minutes of the half. But the Pack put the game away with a 16-0 run, turning a 56-47 game into a 72-47 blowout. Costner was the catalyst, scoring eight of the team's point during the run.