Junior center Tracy Smith combined his inside moves with some nifty passing to help lead NC State to a dominating 75-57 win over Georgia Southern in front of 4,297 fans at Reynolds Coliseum on Saturday.
The Wolfpack featured balanced scoring with five players in double figures to improve to 7-1 on the season. Smith led the way with 21 points, seven rebounds and three assists, and his partner in crime in the frontcourt, senior power forward Dennis Horner, added 16 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
"Dennis has been solid from day one," NCSU coach Sidney Lowe said. "The work he put in this summer is paying off. His leadership, his confidence, his mindset, is strictly about the team and winning. So he is playing free that way.
"We told them to look inside [to Smith]. It's just something about when people go zone, it's a tendency for guards not to look inside. You can go inside against a zone and play inside-out. When we do that, good things happen. Maybe he'll get a chance to score, get fouled, or if they double down, he can kick it out. I thought we missed him a couple times today."
NC State shot 16 of 17 from the field on two-pointers in the second half, and 28 of 34 for the game. Horner and Smith were in the middle of the action to contribute to that, whether finishing the play, setting up a teammate or each other for an easy basket.
Horner's passing skills were also on display early. He set up Smith with an easy dunk when the Wolfpack took an 15-8 lead. He later hit a cutting Josh Davis for a layup in a beautiful set to help NC State stretch its early lead to 24-12.
Smith set up Horner for an easy basket to close out the first half, giving NC State a 31-20 lead.
Smith was particularly proud of his give-and-go that he worked with fifth-year senior guard Farnold Degand that resulted in a Degand layup to give the Wolfpack a 48-29 lead with 14:56 left in the game.
Horner's last great dish for the game, set up Smith for a big dunk, and NC State built its lead up to 73-51 with 2:36 remaining.
The quality passing from the big men was needed with the Wolfpack down one of their playmakers. Sophomore Julius Mays filled in at point guard for the injured Javier Gonzalez, and added 11 points and went 3 of 4 from three-point range. Sophomore shooting guard C.J. Williams added 10 points. Mays and Williams combined to go 5 of 7 from three-point land, but the rest of the team went 0 for 10.
Freshman small forward Davis provided a boost for the second straight game off the bench. Davis was able to get dunks and layups around the basket, to finish with 10 points and four boards in 15 minutes of action.
Fifth-year senior guard Farnold Degand set up Davis twice for two easy dunks.
"That's my job [supply energy], and I'll keep doing what I'm doing," Davis said. "Farnold knows, and that is how it is in practice. I'm going to the rim [and teammates should lob it up there]."
"Something is going to happen when he comes into the game," Lowe said about Davis. "He'll get a loose ball, get an offensive rebound, a dunk, a block, he'll do something. He just plays hard."
The passing was pretty at times in the first half, but Lowe was disappointed that the Wolfpack only had an 11-point lead. Mays said Lowe was particularly upset about allowing eight first-half offensive rebounds.
"He isn't the type where he screams and veins pop out of his head, but his voice was real aggressive," Mays said. "When he talks, you know he is pissed off. I think we came out in the second half and rebounded a lot better."
The second half showcased a better version of NC State basketball, though there was one lull mixed in.
Georgia Southern hung around, cutting the Wolfpack 20-point lead down to nine with 12:02 remaining, 52-41. Willie Powers hit a layup and Antonio Hanson added a three-pointer during a 10-2 run. That was the closest Georgia Southern would get.
"They started to do some things against us, and they started to relax," Lowe said. "That is part of the growing pains. I thought we just lost our concentration there. We picked it back up and got aggressive on defense again. We got some stops, and went down and scored."
NC State built its lead up to 20 for a second time in the second half after settling down, 68-47 with 5:26 remaining in the game. This time, there wasn't a letup.
NC State returns to action with a home game against Elon on Nov. 17 at the RBC Center. Lowe hopes that Gonzalez will be back for non-conference game.
"We are hoping it is not going to be another Engin [Atsur] situation, where it lingers on all year long," Lowe said. "That's going to be up to Javi, and what he can handle, and what he feels he can take, the pain. I'm going to let him tell me."