Johnson: Halfway There

NC State is halfway to the ACC Championship, and its been different heroes each night that have kept the Wolfpack alive into the weekend.

On Thursday it was Tracy Smith, Farnold Degand, and Richard Howell.

On Friday it was Smith, Scott Wood, and Javi Gonzalez.

NC State has advanced to the semifinals of the ACC Tournament because its getting the secondary contributions it so sorely missed for much of the season. At no time was that more evident than on Friday night when the Seminoles were determined to contain Smith.

"I think they were trying to triple-team me," Smith stated.

The Noles used the long arms of Solomon Alabi to deny the post and were bringing an immediate double team if Smith managed to catch the ball withing 10 feet of the basket. For a few minutes early in the game, it looked like the Pack might be lost on offense without the ability to work inside-out through Smith. To make matters worse, Smith suffered a hip injury early in the game that slowed him down.

"It happened earlier, but I sort of looked away – I was gonna let him tell me," head coach Sidney Lowe said. "I wasn't listening to Doc or anyone else at that time."

So Lowe, instead of trying to force the issue inside, put his faith in the freshman Wood. The same Scott Wood who, despite hitting two big shots against Clemson on Thursday, has struggled with his shooting touch over the final months. But there must be something about those Seminole uniforms that bring out the best in Wood, who nailed his first three three-pointers to keep the Pack in the game in the first half.

"One of the main things I do is shoot 3s," Wood said. "That's probably what I'll be known for."

It's definitely what the Seminoles are going to have nightmares about every time they see NC State on the schedule for the next three years. Wood has now torched the nation's best field goal percentage defense twice, combining to score 49 points and shoot 13-of-21 from behind the arc in two games against the Noles.

But as big of a spark as Wood provided, the most impressive performance came from the Pack's much-maligned point guard. Gonzalez, playing on a bad ankle, put together one of the most impressive stat lines of any Wolfpack player this season. The junior finished with 13 points, six assists, five rebounds and five steals while committing just two turnovers.

"He took control of the ballgame," Lowe said. "On both ends – he was pressing the ball on defense, causing them problems and forcing them to start their offense out a little further. And then on the offensive end he made the right reads."

As long as the Pack can keep getting contributions from players outside of Smith, they'll continue to have a chance to advance. The first two games went down to the wire and when Lowe stepped to the podium in the early hours of Saturday morning, he used one word to describe his team's play.

"Another gutsy win by our ball club," head coach Sidney Lowe said.

Two down, two to go.


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