WINSTON-SALEM — Too bad NC State cannot play Wake Forest more often.
For the second time this season, the Wolfpack scored a convincing win over the Deacons, routing Wake 80-55 in front of 12,576 fans at the LJVM Coliseum in Winston-Salem, N.C., Sunday afternoon.
For the Pack, they scored their first ACC road win of the season in spectacular fashion. The 25-point margin was the third largest conference road-win in school history.
"I thought that was the best game we've put together in a while on both ends of the floor," head coach Sidney Lowe said. "It's been a while where we had several guys that came out and played well for us. You can see the difference in our ballgame. I thought it was a tremendous effort by our kids on the offensive end and the defensive end."
NC State led from start to finish just like they did the first time these two teams met. The Wolfpack rolled to a 90-69 win over Wake Forest in Raleigh during the conference opener for both teams Jan. 8.
In the first contest, the primary weapons for the Pack were the inside duo of freshman forward C.J. Leslie and senior forward Tracy Smith. Smith had a double-double of 23 points and 11 rebounds and Leslie added 19 points and six rebounds.
Both were about as equally effective Sunday in Winston-Salem. Leslie, returning after a one-game suspension for violation of team rules, was one of three freshmen starters for the Pack. Rookie guards Ryan Harrow and Lorenzo Brown also got starting nods.
Leslie apologized to his teammates this week for his actions that caused him to miss the Duke loss in Durham, N.C., Feb. 5. He found out after pregame shoot-around that he would be starting, and Leslie responded with 19 points of 7-of-13 shooting from the field and eight rebounds in 29 minutes. All seven of Leslie's baskets were either dunks (six) or a layup (one).
"It wasn't so much about sending a message, it was just a policy," Lowe said. "I've said from the very beginning it was just one game. I'm not a coach that holds grudges. They are young men, they are going to make mistakes. It's up to us as coaches to try to help them understand. He worked his tail off. He came back to practice, he showed no signs of being upset about anything. He worked his tail off in practice, and he was great in practice. He came out and played well today."
"I came out and played hard," Leslie admitted. "It was very frustrating to see my team out there losing, fighting hard and I couldn't do anything about it. I felt like my down my teammates. I definitely felt bad, and I apologized for that."
Smith added a game-high 20 points on 9-of-12 shooting and also had eight rebounds. The freshmen backcourt of Brown and Harrow combined for 16 points and 13 assists with just five turnovers. The Pack had 22 assists on its 33 made field goals.
NC State started the game on an 8-0 run and was up 37-29 at halftime. The Pack then dominated the final 20 minutes of action. A visibly frustrated Wake Forest head coach Jeff Bzdelik noted after the game that the Wolfpack scored on 21 of its 30 second half possessions.
The Pack shot 19 of 28 from the field in the second half, or 67.9 percent, and finished the game making 33 of 59 field goal attempts, good for 55.9 percent. The Deacons could never sustain a rally in the second half after scoring six of the first eight points after halftime to cut State's lead to 39-35 with 18:16 left in the game. NC State went on a 14-2 run over the next five minutes to put the game out of reach at 53-37.
NCSU also closed strong, outscoring WFU 15-4 over the final six minutes of the contest. Bzedlik noted in his post game press conference that he had a hunch that the Deacs were not sharp coming into the contest.
"Prior to the Miami game we had two energetic practices," Bzdelik said. "You are going to play like you practice. The last few days leading up to this particular game, our practices weren't very good. We played today like we practiced the last couple of days. Why is that? You can ask the players, but yesterday our practice in the morning wasn't very good, at all.
"If we were so-called hungover because of a tough loss, that happens. They need to mature, get over it, move on. To use that as an excuse shows our lack of maturity and leadership. We know we are much better than we showed today but that is meaningless at this point. Like this whole season has been, it's been a learning experience. I am confident that our young players will learn from this experience."
NC State improves to 13-11 on the year and 3-7 in the ACC while Wake Forest falls to 8-17 overall and 1-9 in the conference. NC State hosts Clemson Thursday evening at the RBC Center in Raleigh.