NC State senior center Tracy Smith's left knee was hurting Wednesday night, but he wasn't going to let it hinder his play on the court.
Smith gutted out 26 minutes in the 77-69 loss to Virginia Tech at the RBC Center. He finished with 11 points, six rebounds, two assists and two blocks.
The 6-foot-8, 255-pounder scored seven points in the first half, but then his knee started to act up a little in the second half. He played just nine minutes after halftime, but finished strong with a pair of baskets in the post over the last 1:58 of the game.
The preseason All-ACC selection injured his knee prior to the start of the season and re-injured it six minutes into the East Carolina game Nov. 18. He underwent a knee scope the following day.
Smith missed 10 games before returning Jan. 1. He is averaging 16.2 points per game and shooting 51.2 percent (64 of 125) from the field since coming back to the team.. For the season, Smith is averaging 14.7 points and 5.4 rebounds in 27.8 minutes per game. He is shooting 50.0 percent from the floor and 68.9 from the free-throw line.
The Virginia Tech game was the first time Smith showed visible issues with his knee.
"My knee was pretty sore the whole game," Smith said. "It has been sore the last couple of games. I just have to keep getting it stronger. I don't think it's the same pain from my surgery. I think it might be tendinitis."
Adding to the situation is that the Wolfpack have lost six of their last seven games going into Saturday's contest at Duke.
"It's frustrating that we are losing," Smith said. "I think we still have time and can change this thing around, but we have to bring it both halves.
"If you want to win and be a good team, you have to do it both halves. You have to do it for 40 minutes."
Smith doesn't understand why the team has struggled with its energy at times.
"I don't know if the guys aren't pumped up enough, but I'll tell the guys in practice that you have to bring the same energy in the first half as the second," Smith said.
NC State, which has been inconsistent of late, has eight regular-season ACC games remaining.
"We have to keep working, go out strong in the first half and be ready to play whoever we are facing," Smith said.
Smith has 1,121 career points, which ranks 37th in school history, and is 17 points shy of passing former teammate Ben McCauley and moving into 36th place. Smith is also 12 rebounds shy of reaching 500 for his career. He'll eventually become just the 25th player in school history to reach 1,000 career points and 500 career rebounds.
Smith put his name into the NBA Draft last spring, but never seriously considered turning pro. The Detroit native was excited about the influx of talent from the 2010 recruiting class and had high hopes for the season. Having a 12-10 overall record and 2-6 ACC mark wasn't how he envisioned his last year in Raleigh.
"I never would have imagined this," Smith said. "We had a top recruiting class coming in with C.J. [Leslie], Ryan [Harrow] and Lorenzo [Brown]. You just have to keep fighting through it. They came in as freshmen and have done a good job.
"We just have to turn this thing around. It's not too late."