NC State felt as if it never recovered after losing at East Carolina last year.
The wounds were still fresh Wednesday with the Wolfpack looking to avenge last year's stunning loss to the Pirates. An emotional and energetic NC State proved too rugged on the interior in pulling away for an 87-76 win in front of 16,763 fans at the RBC Center.
Redshirt junior power forward Brandon Costner had his best game since his redshirt freshman season with 24 points, 17 rebounds, three assists and three 3-pointers. Fellow inside player Ben McCauley, a 6-foot-9 center, added 20 points and six boards, and 6-7 Tracy Smith chipped in 11 points off the bench.
NC State, which was playing without injured senior small forward Courtney Fells, improved to 6-1 overall and host Lipscomb on Saturday. ECU fell to 8-2 overall.
"With Courtney out everybody needs to step up and play a bigger role and play a bigger part in us continuing to be successful," Costner said. "I thought we came out and played together as a team, and worked hard, played smart and got the win."
Costner was happy the Wolfpack could settle some important business with the Pirates. ECU defeated NCSU for the first time in 18 games last year, and snapped a 57-game losing streak to ACC teams last year.
"There is no reason why East Carolina should be able to come in here and beat us," Costner said. "A lot of people were talking about how they were going to beat us, and should beat us. That wasn't the case. We really needed to come out and prove a point and let them know that last year was an aberration."
Costner flashed his old form, making a nice reverse layup to start the game, and then draining back-to-back three-pointers.
"When [Brandon Costner's] shooting the ball, he's very energized," NC State coach Sidney Lowe said. "He wanted every rebound and he got them."
Costner also wanted to set the tone that last year was in the rear-view mirror.
"Last year hurt [losing to ECU]," Costner said. "Last year really felt like it was a big turning point in the season. It felt like that loss really got our confidence down, and got us down as a team, and it was all downhill from there.
"We needed to come out and send a message that it was a new year, new team and new attitude."
Costner, McCauley and Smith combined to shoot a blistering 18 of 26 from the field and 16 of 22 from the free-throw line. The regular trips to the line led to ECU two centers, starter Chad Wynn and backup Darrius Morrow, to foul out, and wing Jontae Sherrod also fouled out.
Forward Jamar Abrams played the last 15:47 of the second half with four fouls. The Pirates finished with 26 fouls, while the Wolfpack had 11.
NC State took advantage of the huge free-throw disparity, going 26 of 34 at the line, while ECU went 12 of 15.
"Coach wanted us to attack their big men, and sure enough we did that, and got to the line and made some big free throws," McCauley said.
The two teams played at a blistering pace in the first half that was capped by Javier Gonzalez stunning three-pointer from beyond halfcourt to give the Pack a 45-42 and some momentum going into halftime.
NC State went on a 15-4 run to start the half thanks to five-straight points from Costner and seven straight from McCauley, with the two post players sandwiching a Trevor Ferguson three-pointer.
"That was huge for us, besides defense, coach really concentrated on getting the ball inside," McCauley said. "We felt like that we had an advantage in there, not only with us scoring, but dishing it back out."
The Pirates stayed with the Pack thanks to 6 of 11 shooting from three-point range in the first half, but cooled off considerably in the second, finishing 8 of 26. With the three-point shot neutralized, the Pirates had to dig deep to stay in the game, and their smallest player came up the biggest.
Raleigh native Brock Young put on a show with 19 of his game-high 25 points coming in the second half, plus he added six assists and seven rebounds. The 5-11 former Broughton High star even played through having his front teeth knocked out toward the end of the game when the Pack's Javier Gonzalez connected with a swinging elbow.
Shooting guard Sam Hinnant, who scored 30 points in last year's upset, cut the Wolfpack's lead to 78-74 with 3:12 remaining in the game. NC State closed the game out going 9 of 10 at the foul line, and starting small forward Simon Harris mixed in a big offensive rebound with a little over a minute left to preserve the win.
Hinnant scored 11 of his 18 points in the first half and finished shooting 4 of 9 from three-point range with Harris often his shadow.
"That's what I like to do is if they have a guy that likes to score or scores easily, I like to be one out there to try and stop him," Harris said. "It is really gratifying when a guy misses shots and puts his head down, which happens a lot."
Harris and the Wolfpack were also playing with heavy hearts with former player Brian Keeter in critical condition after a terrible car crash at 3:30 a.m. Sunday that involved drinking while impaired. NC State also didn't have video coordinator Levi Watkins on the bench because of health issues.
"I feel every opportunity I get to play is a blessing," Harris said. "With the things that are going on in our Wolfpack family, a lot of tragedies or things you don't want to see, we really are a close-knit family here at NC State. It's been tough to deal with the last couple of days.
"Coach Lowe said that if you look at things like that, we are blessed for the opportunity to play today."