New Orleans hung around, but once the Privateers cut NC State's lead to seven points, the Wolfpack responded with a closing push Sunday at the RBC Center.
Tracy Smith scored a game-high 20 points, grabbed a team-high eight rebounds and blocked three shots to help NC State win 69-52 and improve to 5-0 on the season. NCSU will make its national television debut Tuesday with a home game against Northwestern as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on ESPNU.
"We know everybody has picked us last in the ACC and people don't think we'll be great," Smith said. "I think we can be pretty good. Everyone is coming in, and we are all buying in collectively as one. We are all on the same page. We want to win. We want to be successful."
New Orleans opened the second half and cut NC State's lead to seven points on two occasions. The Privateers' leading scorer Billy Humphrey cut the lead to 42-35 with a layup with 12:50 left in the second half. The basket was just one of two on the day for Humphrey with NC State doing a good defensive job holding the former Georgia standout to four points on 2-of-8 shooting from the field.
Junior point guard Javier Gonzalez took charge with back-to-back three-pointers, and then Smith added a basket to extend the Wolfpack's lead to 50-35 during the 1:12 spurt. Gonzalez's spark highlighted a solid game for the floor general, who finished with 13 points, eight assists and just two turnovers in 30 minutes.
"I was just trying to get my confidence back," Gonzalez said. "I have been struggling the last [four] games. I've been trying to get in the gym and get as many shots as I could. I know that this team is going to need me to score the basketball."
NCSU coach Sidney Lowe was impressed by the defensive job of small forwards Scott Wood and Josh Davis on Humphrey, who was held 17.5 points under his season average.
"He was a major focus, and Scott Wood and Josh Davis did an unbelievable job defensively on him," Lowe said. "They just took away his options and really jammed him up, not giving him any open shots. That was as much a key to the game as anything, their defense on him."
Smith proved the constant in both half's for NC State, scoring 10 points apiece. The 6-8 junior has a double-double for points and rebounds in three out of the first five games this season. He knows he could have snagged two more boards to have gotten another double-double.
"[Ten rebounds] means a lot, but I can get more," Smith said. "The goal is to try and get a double-double every game."
Smith got early help from shooting guard C.J. Williams, who had nine points thanks to two three-pointers in the first half.
Senior forward Dennis Horner delivered in the second half, scoring eight of his 10 points, including a three-pointer that gave NC State a commanding 62-42 lead with 5:11 left in the game.
The attention Smith drew in the paint and having his confidence at a high level, helped NC State's offense work inside-out.
"He feels pretty good down there, and I don't feel anyone can stop him one-on-one," Gonzalez said. "Ever since he came here as a freshman, that is what he can do, score the basketball."
NC State's defense rose up to the challenge with an impressive 14 blocked shots. Horner led the way with four blocks, and Smith and freshman center Jordan Vandenberg had three blocks apiece. New Orleans shot 22 of 63 from the field for 34.9 percent.
"I feel good about it, but I can do better," Smith said. "We have to keep working on it, it will come. We can go lead the league in blocked shots, but we have to play good help defense, which we continue to work on at practice every day."
NC State entered the game with 14 blocks on the season, highlight by a five-block effort in the 66-45 win over Akron on Nov. 20.
"I was very pleased with it," Lowe said. "We want to try and do that every game, keep our hands active and get our hands on balls. Our bigs protecting the basket, that was big for us. That was huge for us, to get those blocks and give us an opportunity to get out and run. It's all going to be based on our defense because we have to defend."
Freshman power forward Richard Howell also made his NC State debut after injuring his knee during preseason workouts, and having surgery. The 6-8, 266-pounder isn't in ideal shape, but flashed what he might do in the future for the Wolfpack. He made two free throws, grabbed two rebounds and had an assist in seven second-half minutes.
"That was big for us because we needed to get Rich in there and get some action," Lowe said. "To see where he is at this particular time. We knew that conditioning would be a question, but just getting out there and getting some play would be good for him and good for us."
NC State did play its fifth-straight game without fifth-year senior guard Farnold Degand. He is academically eligible by NCAA standards, but Lowe wants a more focused approach to his academic work. However, there is not a time-table for his return.
"There are a couple of things that are looking good right now, and then we'll see next week," Lowe said.
Sophomore guard Charles Carmouche led the 3-2 Privateers with 16 points and eight rebounds.
"NC State is a better team," New Orleans coach Joe Pasternack said. "It's that simple. They're talented. They're a big team, an athletic team. I thought Charles Carmouche played excellent, bus aside from him, we didn't have a lot of production. When Billy Humphrey scores four points, and Jaroslav Tyrna gets two points, we're not going to be able to score the ball. We really struggled to score the ball."