After countless heart-breakers, blown leads and missed opportunities, NC State finally put it together for 40 minutes, pulling off its biggest upset of the season. They jumped out to a big lead in the second half then did just enough to hold on, upsetting No. 8 Wake Forest 81-76 at the RBC Center on Wednesday night.
"It feels great," senior Courtney Fells said. "It's a good relief. I thought we played well last game against Virginia Tech but we didn't close the game. We got into the same situation tonight but we were able to knock down our free throws and win the game."
In the closing minutes it looked like the Tech game all over again, when the Pack blew and 18-point lead and lost in overtime. But after getting up by 20 and watching the lead get trimmed all the way to two points, the Pack found its poise. They out-rebounded, out-hustled and out-fought a resilient Deacon team. The Pack got the stops it needed, hit its free-throws when it mattered most and walked off the court with its most impressive win in nearly two years.
"No Virginia Tech was going to go down," Farnold Degand said. "I wasn't going to let it go down. I didn't play at Virginia Tech so I was definitely going to come into this game and make sure we won this game."
Degand put together one of his most impressive performances at the point for the Pack. He tied a career high with 14 points, dished out four assists and had three steals. Combining with Javi Gonzalez, they kept the Pack in its offensive flow and kept the Wake pressure from sinking the home team down the stretch.
"[Javi and Farnold] were great. Just pushing the ball down the floor, giving us the opportunity to get out on some breaks. Then when they applied some pressure, having both of them in the ball game to get the ball down the court. We needed that, we needed both of them to play well."
But the guards were just one of many heros for the Pack on Wednesday night. Brandon Costner scored 23 points, including an 11-point barrage in the second half, and had nine rebounds. Tracy Smith picked up the first double-double of his career with 12 points and 12 rebounds, including 10 offensive boards. Courtney Fells scored 12 points but locked down on defense against one of the ACC's elite players in Jeff Teague, holding the explosive scorer to 11 points and two field goals. CJ Williams came off the bench to score 10 points and was perfect from the free-throw line.
"You see us – we can play with anybody," Costner said. "We can give good efforts, we can be in games, we can be winning games. So really its a matter of us focusing on what we need to do, as a team collectively, and getting the job done like we did tonight."
Lowe has constantly stressed creating offense with defense, and the Pack did that more elegantly than ever this season in the first 20 minutes of play. They scored 12 points off nine Wake Forest turnovers and had seven steals while also shooting an 48 percent from the floor. The Pack also out-rebounded the Deacons, pulling down 20 boards and 10 on the offensive glass.
Degand, who didn't play on Sunday for undisclosed academic reasons, played one his best halves of basketball in scoring eight points and no turnovers in 10 minutes. CJ Williams also put one his more impressive performances in the first half with eight points and a couple of break-away steals. The two bench players helped the Pack take a 42-34 advantage into the halftime locker room.
The Pack game back after the break even more aggressive, especially Costner. During one stretch the junior had an 11-0 run by himself, turning a nine-point lead into a 20-point game. He hit two threes, converted an and one and hit two free throws as he appeared to turn the game into a blow-out.
But Wake didn't go down quietly, using its backcourt pressure to shave 10 points off the lead in two minutes. Then they chipped away, getting it down to just a two-point game with two minutes to play. But the Pack earned the win at the line, going 9-for-12 at the end of the game in scoring its last nine points.
"No one expected us to win and play the way we did," Gonzalez said. "Being up by 20 against the No. 7 team in the country, other teams are going to start respecting us a little bit more."