Feeding the post is an underrated aspect of basketball, but NC State perfected the art in feeding sophomore center Tracy Smith the ball to the tune of a career-high 31 points Wednesday in rallying for a 88-68 win at the RBC Center.
Smith came off the bench and dominated the lane going 10 of 15 from the field and an astonishing 11 of 11 from the free-throw line, all in just 23 minutes of action.
"I just feel good," Smith said. "I was just jumping up and down because I was wide open in the back every time, and they found me.
"I just tried to come in and step up the energy. I think I did that and we stepped the game up."
Smith crushed his previous career-high of 14 points against North Carolina Greensboro on Nov. 30 this season, and also set a new career-high in rebounds with seven. The 6-foot-7, 232-pounder scored most of his baskets near the rim or by dunks. The 100 percent accuracy from the foul line might be the most important long-lasting impact from his breakout performance.
Smith shot only 52.4 percent from the line last year, and though his shot seems more fluid this season, he only has connected on 33 of 63 free throws for the same identical 52.4 percentage coming into the game.
"I actually liked both of them [scoring 31 points and going 11 of 11 at the line]," Smith said. "I'm getting my touch back at the free-throw line. I'm just concentrating and shooting. I just work on them in practice. I try to make 100 out of 125 before I leave."
Towson shooting guard Josh Thornton came out firing to start the game, making four three-pointers in the first 7:08 of the game to build the lead up to 21-11, but toward the tail end of his shooting spree was when Smith checked in.
Smith scored his first points with two free throws with 14:03 left in the first half to cut the lead to 18-9. Smith went on to score 15 points out of the Pack's 21, against Towson's 1-3-1 zone. However, Towson (5-8) still led 31-27, despite Smith's scoring binge. He later returned to add four points to close out the first half, giving NC State (9-2) its first lead since they were up 5-3 with 18 minutes left in the half.
Brandon Costner's nice drive down the left side of the lane resulted in a three-point play to tie the game 41-41, to set up Smith's final first-half flurry to take a 46-41 lead into halftime. Smith ended the first half going 5 of 9 from the field, 9 of 9 from the line for 19 points.
Costner helped the Wolfpack get off to a strong start in the second half, working well with Smith. The 6-9 redshirt junior power forward made a pass that he thought would lead to an easy Ben McCauley dunk, but a Towson defender snuck in to pick it off.
Costner's body language was full of surprise on the play, but he responded by dunking on a nice pass from McCauley, and then stampeding his way to the bucket with a powerful dunk over Towson's 6-8 Junior Hairston to give the Wolfpack a 52-46 lead.
"That kid should have been playing football because that was a good pickoff," Costner said. "I just needed to be more sure of my passes and I did that."
When Smith entered the game, Costner found him twice in a row, one for an easy dunk and another for a layup, and the Wolfpack were off and running, whether the Tigers' played a 1-3-1 or 2-3 zone.
"Brandon gave me like six assists, and I told him I would recover from the last game," Smith said. "He would throw me passes and I was fumbling them, so I gave him three turnovers. I just tried to come out and tried to catch everything and finish."
Costner's sharp passing led to a career-high 10 assists, eclipsing his prior mark of seven, which he achieved against Western Carolina and Boston College last year. He also added 15 points, one of five Wolfpack players in double figures.
"Costner made some great passes," NC State coach Sidney Lowe said. "He knew exactly where his receivers were. He kept it simple. Those 10 assists were huge. We executed the offense well and didn't care who got it."
NC State also finished with 21 assists on the 28 made baskets and shot 53.8 percent from the field, while Towson struggled at 37.7 percent.
"We were just way too passive with the zone, but once we started attacking and got Tracy some easy baskets, it opened up things for everyone else," Costner said. "I want to see a shot chart [on Smith's baskets]."
Thornton cooled off a little, but finished with a team-high 22 points, going 6 of 12 from three-point range, and Jarrell Smith added 20 points and 11 rebounds for Towson.
NC State returns to action Saturday at Florida, and then the Wolfpack will begin ACC action Jan. 10 at Clemson.