RALEIGH — Freshman point guard Julius Mays had no idea he was going to get his first North Carolina State start against Lipscomb on Saturday at the RBC Center.
Mays, who didn't even play against East Carolina, got the starting nod over redshirt junior point guard Farnold Degand, and guided the Wolfpack (7-1) to an easy 78-58 non-conference victory over Lipscomb (4-5).
The steady Mays started in place of injured sophomore Javier Gonzalez, who is out with an elbow injury that was sustained when he knocked the front teeth out of ECU's Brock Young on Dec. 17.
Mays proceeded to score nine points and dished out seven assists (six in the first half), and had zero turnovers in 24 minutes. Degand also played perhaps his best game of the season, knocking down both three-point attempts and scoring eight points in 14 minutes.
"Before the game, coach [Sidney Lowe] told me he was going to start me, and he said just take care of the ball and lead the team," Mays said. "Tonight, I just came in with the focus that I didn't want to get any turnovers. I just wanted to get my teammates open and have them shoot the ball."
The Marion, Ind., native is still adjusting to playing point guard after playing both positions in high school. He was recruited by fellow Marion product Monte Towe, an assistant and former player for the Wolfpack.
"I'm learning a lot, more and more every day, with all our coaches being pretty much point guards," Mays said. "They keep me after practice and show me some things when I come off of ball screens. They just show me stuff and different actions."
Lowe was pleased with how Mays played in running the offense smoothly.
"The thing about it is that he didn't play the last game [vs. ECU], and he came out ready to play today," Lowe said. "That is the kind of young man that he is. He just wants to take advantage of that opportunity, and it presented itself today. He was solid, and ran our team, made a few shots, no turnovers.
"He pushed it when he had it, he slowed it down. He ran the ball club just the way you'd want him to do it."
The Wolfpack also gained back the services of senior small forward Courtney Fells, just in time for Monday's big game against No. 24-ranked Marquette at the RBC Center. Fells played six minutes in limited action.
"I just wanted him to get some action in a game setting to get ready for Monday's ball game," Lowe said. "I didn't want him to be cold turkey coming into that game. He said it himself after the game, that he was a little nervous out there because he hadn't touched the ball in so long. I wanted to get him a little touch and some contact."
However, Lowe wasn't sure if Gonzalez would be available against the Golden Eagles.
"We are still waiting," Lowe said. "He still has a little swelling in it. They had to go in there and clean it out because the cut was so deep, it was down to the bone. They had to clean it out a little bit and that irritated it a little, so it was swollen. He tried to move it around today, but I'm not sure if he'll practice tomorrow or play on Monday."
Lipscomb led early, taking a 16-14 lead with 12:18 left in the second half, but the Wolfpack went on a methodical 23-4 run due in part to their defense. Seven different players scored for NC State with Mays leading the way with five points.
The Bisons went nearly seven minutes without any points, snapping the streak when Josh Slater made a layup to cut the score to 37-22 with 1:20 left in the half.
Redshirt junior shooting guard Trevor Ferguson finished Lipscomb off to start the second half with three 3-pointers in a span of 2:02 to extend the lead to 50-33 with 14:15 left in the game. Ferguson finished with a game-high 14 points on 4 of 8 shooting from three-point range.
"It's something that we talked about at halftime, we weren't necessarily getting the job done on defense," Ferguson said. "We were letting their guards penetrate too easily. We really talked about that at halftime. Defense led to offense, and we were able to get a good run and bury them a little bit."
Redshirt junior power forward Brandon Costner added 13 points and eight rebounds, and senior center Ben McCauley had 11 points and nine rebounds.
Lipscomb was led by sophomore center Adnan Hodzic, who had game-highs of 18 points and 12 rebounds, and Slater added 13 off the bench.
"I was fine with the first 12 minutes or so of the game," Lipscomb coach Scott Sanderson said. "We mixed some man-to-man with our zone, slowed them down some and made it tough for them to score at times. Offensively, we worked the ball inside and were able to get some good shots.
"Then we hit that stretch where we just couldn't get a shot to fall, and we were getting some good looks. We missed a bunch of chippies in that stretch. We just could not buy a basket."