NOTEBOOK: Pack Wins it at the Line

NC State has struggled shooting free throws all season, but that didn't stop the Pack from stepping up to the line and knocking them down with regularity in the 88-81 win over Florida State.

NC State has struggled shooting free throws all season, but that didn't stop the Pack from stepping up to the line and knocking them down with regularity in the 88-81 win over Florida State.

State entered the game shooting just 64% from the line which ranked in the bottom third of the ACC. Even more troubling was the fact that two of the team's top three scoring threats, Tracy Smith (61.5%) and Javy Gonzalez (64.2%) were really struggling.

State lost the Florida game by missing free throws down the stretch that opened the door for a buzzer-beater, and in the eight-point loss to Virginia they hit just 16-of-26 and missed seven in the second half that let the Cavaliers seize momentum and overcome a double-digit lead. Virginia made their final 17 free throws and 19-of-20 overall, and that proved to be the deciding factor.

"We need guys to step up under pressure and make their free throws," Sidney Lowe said after the loss which dropped State to 11-5 overall and 0-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Double-digit underdogs to No. 25 Florida State, and with games against Clemson and Duke looming, the Wolfpack appeared to be on its way to a potential lengthy losing streak.

However, in Tallahassee it would be NC State that won the game at the line. The Pack hit 29-of-35 (83%) from the charity stripe, including 22-of-24 free throws in the final seven minutes when the Seminoles attempted to make a comeback.

"We knocked them down," said Lowe. "They kept putting us on the line and our guys stepped up there and made them... Tracy, Farnold, Julius.

"I thought we really fought mentally. When they were really getting physical with us... our guys hung tough."

The success at the line should give guys like Smith and Degand additional confidence when it comes to trying to secure the win.

"It says that when we put our minds to it and stay focused in a ballgame, not lose our concentration, we can finish ballgames," added Lowe. "Guys stepping up, concentrating, and making free throws. That is guys being ready to play."

It's been an up-an-down sophomore season for Julius Mays. The 6-foot-3, 187-pounder has averaged 21 minutes a game, mainly backing up starter Javier Gonzalez at the point guard position.

At times he still looks uncomfortable running the point and has problems keeping opposing guards out of the lane, but NC State wouldn't have defeated Florida State without a solid game from Mays.

Gonzalez had arguably his worst game of the year. The junior played just 15 minutes because of foul trouble and finished with five points and three assists while turning the ball over six times.

Mays played 26 minutes, and although he hit only 1-of-4 shots from the field, he was 10-of-10 from the line in the closing minutes to finish with 12 points and two assists. He did a terrific job of keeping the ball in his hands when Florida State had to foul and the confidence he exuded might have carried over to his teammates who all shot the ball better from the line.

Although Mays is averaging just 6.4 points and 2.2 assists, he's only recording 1.2 turnovers a game and is shooting 87% from the line. Because of that, expect him to be in the game, and wanting the ball in his hands, late in ballgames.

Freshman Richard Howell missed the first four games with an injury and it took him a little while to get back into playing shape, but now he's making a push for more playing time at the power forward position.

The 6-foot-8, 260-pounder is giving NC State another big body to play in the paint alongside starter Tracy Smith, and Howell's seven rebounds off the bench was a big reason the Pack outrebounded Florida State in the win.

"He was physical," Lowe said of Howell. "He was rebounding the basketball. He was in there banging with Tracy so we had two big guys in there banging. That was big for us to get those rebounds."

At his size, Howell is also strong with the basketball and makes good decisions. His ability to play with composure and read defenses enabled Sidney Lowe to make a key adjustment on inbound situations. Previously, the Wolfpack has had wing Scott Wood inbounding the basketball, but Wood is one of the team's top two free throw shooters and needs to be on the floor receiving the basketball in obvious fouling situations. Lowe had Howell inbounding the ball Tuesday and he didn't record a turnover while handling the simple, yet important task.

"A lot of guys can't do that," Lowe said of inbounding the basketball. "It gave us an opportunity to see Richard in that situation. We did it in practice a few times and he looked pretty comfortable with it. It allowed us to put Scott Wood on the floor and be a receiver in those situations. That's as big as anything.... Richard getting the ball inbounds."

"He played really well," Wood said of Howell. "He played a real good game... rebounding and defensively he just.. he held it together for us."

Howell finished the game with seven points, seven rebounds, and only one turnover in 18 minutes of action.

"Scott had a great game, but I can't praise Richard Howell enough," said Lowe.

Who would have thought NC State could beat a ranked team on the road by scoring 88 points with Tracy Smith and Javy Gonzalez totaling just 12 points?... NC State shot a blistering 48% from behind the 3-point line (11-23) while Florida State hit just 4-of-13 (31%) attempts... Dennis Horner leads NC State in blocks (21). Tracy Smith is second with 17... Speaking of blocks, no way Jordan Vandenberg only has 15. Come on stat guys... Clemson comes to Raleigh fresh off an emotional home win over North Carolina. Will NC State be able to handle their pressure?...

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