TSX: Tough Stretch for Pack

Beginning with Saturday's game at No. 19 Georgia Tech, North Carolina State faces a difficult finishing stretch that could land the Wolfpack in the cellar of the ACC.

That does not bode well for coach Sidney Lowe, who will be hearing the grumbles of Wolfpack fans who were already unsatisfied with his tenure before the season.

"I don't know what is going on other than that we are missing shots," Lowe said after Wednesday's loss at Virginia, the Wolfpack's third defeat in its last four games. "We are missing layups, and that just kills you. Perimeter-wise, we're not scoring. We knew that it was going to be tough, but I thought that with some of the looks we've been getting, we'd be hitting more shots."

The offense is definitely a concern, especially on the perimeter. The Wolfpack began the week near the bottom of the ACC in scoring at just over 70 points a game.

Wednesday's 47-point output against Virginia certainly won't help.

"It's very frustrating," freshman Richard Howell said of the Pack's offensive woes. "Most of the time the guys are just looking for the contact and not going up and finishing strong. We're missing a lot of layups now; we're missing jump shots. It's something that we've got to just work on as a team."

North Carolina State held Sylven Landesberg, the ACC's third-leading scorer, to just seven points on 2-of-10 shooting. However, the Wolfpack couldn't muster enough offense of its own, and it squandered away a halftime lead in Virginia.

Freshman Richard Howell led the Wolfpack with 14 points, and leading scorer Tracy Smith added 12. But those were the only two players in double figures for N.C. State, which dropped its third straight ACC game since upsetting Duke on Jan. 20.

In a slow, grind-it-out conference game, Virginia opened the second half with a 15-4 run and never looked back.

--After back-to-back 14-point losses to Maryland and North Carolina, North Carolina State needed a break from ACC competition, and the Wolfpack got it in the form of a 77-42 romp past North Carolina Central.

The 'Pack came out sluggish and led by only seven points at halftime against the Eagles, who had only one win over an NCAA opponent -- and that one being a Division III team -- this season.

But the 'Pack took over in the final 20 minutes, shooting better than 78 percent from the field and outscoring the visitors 50-22.

"The first half we did OK, but we played a lot harder the second half," forward Tracy Smith said after his 23-point afternoon.

With icy roads and extreme wintry weather in the area, only 2,217 showed up at RBC Center in Raleigh. The weather kept the pep band, cheerleaders and dance team at home.

"We knew coming in that it would be a bad-weather day and there wouldn't be a lot of people here," Smith said, "but we said in the locker room that we had to create our own energy, and we did that in the second half."

--F Tracy Smith is drawing a lot of attention from opposing defenses, but it doesn't look to be slowing the 6-foot-8 junior much. Since scoring just seven points in the win over Florida State, he has averaged 20.0 points and shot better than 68 percent from the field in the past five games entering the week.

--The win over North Carolina Central gave the Wolfpack a 12-3 record against nonconference opponents.

With point guard and second-leading scorer Javier Gonzalez having his minutes reduced after breaking a team rule, North Carolina State is going to have trouble scoring. Gonzalez is the Wolfpack's best playmaker, capable of penetrating and knocking down outside shots. But after Gonzalez, there's not a lot of firepower left in Sidney Lowe's backcourt.

"Perimeter-wise, we're not scoring," Lowe said after Wednesday's loss to Virginia. "We need guys to make shots. We knew it was going to be tough for some young guys, and we're a fairly young team. But I would have thought (that) if we would have had some of the looks that we've been getting, we would have knocked them down. We haven't. It's hurting us in a major way."

G Scott Wood has a 31-point game under his belt in a win over Florida State. But since that Jan. 12 game, Wood is averaging just six points a game.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I was as proud of those guys as I was of the guys at the beginning. That tells a lot about the character of them." -- Coach Sidney Lowe, referring to the second-half play of reserves Johnny Thomas, freshman Jordan Vandenberg, freshman DeShawn Painter and walk-on Enrico Kufuor in the win over North Carolina Central.

IN FOCUS: The 'Pack needs to pick up its shooting if it wants to move up in the ACC race. After going 32 of 55 from the field in the win over Duke, the 'Pack dropped off to 37.5 percent in the losses to Maryland and North Carolina and was shooting only 41.4 percent through its first seven league games.

--PG Javi Gonzalez remains in coach Sidney Lowe's doghouse. After breaking an undisclosed team rule, Gonzalez has been kept out of the starting lineup the past two games. He played 21 minutes and had seven points and no assists against Virginia.

--F Tracy Smith is making a strong case to be a first-team All-ACC player. He's averaging 17.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Over his last six games, Smith is scoring 20 per game and shooting 68 percent from the field.

--Freshman F Richard Howell had a career-high 14 points in Wednesday's loss at Virginia. The small forward was a big-time recruit out of Atlanta, and he should be seeing more minutes down the stretch.

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