RALEIGH — NC State was forced to shake up the lineup Saturday, but several players were able to gain confidence in the Wolfpack's 74-46 victory against Winston-Salem State.
Redshirt junior shooting guard Trevor Ferguson and redshirt senior small forward Simon Harris both earned the first starts of their NC State careers, and ironically scored the first two baskets of the game in the eventual route.
Ferguson took the place of freshman C.J. Williams, while Harris replaced injured senior Courtney Fells, who was out with a deep bruise by his ankle. NC State also played without backup point guard Farnold Degand, who was "disciplined" and starting power forward Brandon Costner was reduced to 15 minutes of action because he got scraped near the eye.
Even without their usual cast of players, the Wolfpack (5-1) made quick work of the Rams (1-6).
NC State didn't take long in putting away Winston-Salem State, ripping off a 16-2 run to build a commanding 25-7 lead with 11:07 left in the half. By then it wasn't whether the Pack would win, but by how many.
The Wolfpack finished the half leading 40-20 on 63 percent shooting. NCSU cooled off in the second half, but the damage was already done.
The 28-point margin was the biggest victory under NC State coach Sidney Lowe, who was happy with how the team responded with the players studying for final exams.
"We didn't know how well we'd do because our guys are mentally and physically drained from staying up and studying for exams, but I was happy with the energy we came out with," Lowe said.
Horner came off the bench to score seven of his 11 points in helping build the early advantage. The junior power forward added seven rebounds, two blocks and two assists in 23 minutes of action. The points, rebounds and minutes were all season-highs. The points were the most he has scored since tallying 13 in the 2007 NIT game against Marist, and the rebounds matched what he did against West Virginia in the same tourney run.
Ferguson came alive toward the end of the game to put the finishing touches on the victory. The deep-range shooter hit back-to-back three-pointers and followed with an old-fashioned three-point play to give NCSU a 72-42 lead with 3:55 remaining.
"[Ferguson and Horner] are going to execute," Lowe said. "Dennis did a great job defensively. Trevor made shots, he was able to get open and he knocked them down."
When it wasn't Ferguson or Horner from the perimeter, then it was senior center Ben McCauley ruling the paint. McCauley finished with a game-high 14 points and was one rebound shy of his fourth-straight double-double.
"NC State was physically stronger than us and it showed," Winston-Salem State coach Bobby Collins said. "Paul Davis weighs 185 pounds and McCauley is up around 235 or 245. We tried to use our quickness but they were able to keep us in check."
NC State was able to empty the bench with 2:03 remaining, putting in the four walk-ons and Williams to finish the game out.
Winston-Salem State shot only 18 of 64 from the field for 28.1 percent, and was even worse from three-point range going 2 of 18. Forward Jamal Durham led the Rams with 12 points, after going 8 of 10 from the free-throw line.
The Wolfpack also dominated the boards with 47 rebounds for a plus-17 advantage, and tallied 22 assists, though did have 16 turnovers, much to the dismay of Lowe.
"We were moving our feet and our hands which tells us we were being active," Lowe said. "The guys did a good job getting their hands out there and blocking.
"We talked at the half about getting those defensive boards. Our guards were able to get in there and block well, and were able to come away with the rebound. Our guys did a nice job being able to change up how they played defense and played man-to-man well."
NC State returns to action with a home game at the RBC Center against East Carolina on Wednesday. The Wolfpack players finish the last of exams next Tuesday.