But in reality there was no excuse for what almost happened to NC State on Thursday night. Lowly Elon nearly walked into the RBC Center and stole a win against the Wolfpack. It took a career day from Dennis Horner and a comeback in the final five minutes, but the Pack managed to escape disaster with a 79-76 victory over the Phoenix.
"We were just fortunate to get away with this one," head coach Sidney Lowe said. "They had more energy than we did. We got some stops when we needed to and a couple of guys made some big plays."
"I sensed it in the locker room. I sensed it in warm-ups. I just didn't see the concentration from the team that I've been seeing. We just got lucky on this one. We talked about it in the post game – we haven't done anything to look at an opponent that way."
For most of the game, it was Horner making those big plays. The senior finished with a career-high 23 points and grabbed seven rebounds, often times looking like the only person on the floor fighting to keep the Pack away from an ugly loss. The senior said the Pack didn't take its opponent seriously enough and it nearly cost them the win.
"We came out lackadaisical, maybe didn't respect Elon enough," Horner said. "They played their [butts] off today and we came out and weren't expecting that and they gave us a game."
Smith was the only other Pack player in double figures, scoring 21 points and grabbing eight rebounds. Javi Gonzalez returned to the line-up after missing the Pack's last game with a hamstring injury but was limited to 20 minutes as the coaching staff tried to ease him back into action. The point guard finished with seven points and five assists.
"He was limited," Lowe said. "We knew he was going to be a little rusty and that was one of the reasons why we didn't put him in as much in that second half."
Elon was all over the sluggish Wolfpack at the start of the game and Lowe seemed unable to find an effective combination for most of the first 20 minutes. Gonzalez didn't score in the half but dished out five assists and steadied a team reeling from the Phoenix's offensive attack. Elon shot a pedestrian 47 percent but pulled down nine offensive rebounds and committed just four turnovers and only trailed when the score was 2-0 at the start of the game.
Horner and Gonzalez kept the Pack afloat in the half with Horner scoring the final seven points to cut an 11-point lead to 39-33 heading into the locker room. Adam Constantine, a Raleigh native, destroyed the Pack on the inside with 14 points and six rebounds as neither Smith nor Painter could contain him in the half. Elon's big man finished the game with 26 points and 10 boards.
"They were going right to him from the very beginning," Lowe said. "But I think it was also a combination of Tracy not working. He didn't work to put it bluntly."
The Pack wasted little time in taking the lead out of the break, scoring seven straight to take a brief 40-39 lead. Despite the apparent shift in momentum, the home steam still couldn't create any separation, trading baskets with the Phoenix for the first 15 minutes of the half. In fact, it was Elon who created a four-point gap with five minutes remaining and the Pack still looking for a spark.
The spark came from the defense and from Smith, as the Pack erased the deficit and took control with a 12-2 run. Even then the Pack hardly cruised, as Elon cut it to a two-point game with 1:27 remaining. Two more baskets from Smith helped keep the Pack its win streak intact, as the big man scored 11 points in the last five minutes for the Pack.