by Mike Potter
RBC CENTER/RALEIGH It's the third meeting between a couple of new Triangle "rivals," what with N.C. Central's move to Division I two seasons ago.
The Eagles got used to playing games at the RBC Center as members of the CIAA, and the tradition has continued with an invitation to play N.C. State each of the past two seasons. State is one of just two teams that has played NCCU for three straight seasons, the other being oddly enough Colgate.
The Wolfpack may be on a two-game losing streak against ACC competition, but will be a heavy favorite today since LeVelle Moton's Eagles have neither won on the road nor against Division I opposition this season.
State has won each of the previous two meetings by at least 25 points. Last season it was because of a ridiculous 52-14 rebounding advantage, and the season before because the Wolfpack held the only two Eagles who could score to a combined 10 points.
There's not going to be much of a crowd today, as the entire Triangle is locked down by about five inches of snow. It's eventually announced at 2,217,
NCCU has lost 18 games this season and its three worst whippings have all come via ACC teams, all by at least 30 points. It doesn't look like that's going to happen early in today's contest, but the Wolfpack eventually breaks away for a 77-42 win.
The Wolfpack doesn't have things easy in the first half as the Eagles have point guard Michael Glasker walk the ball up the floor. NCCU leads by as many as seven points early on, and State's first lead doesn't come until Dennis Horner hits a short jumper to make it 19-18 with 6:38 left in the half.
That turns out to be the only lead change of the game. State leads 27-20 at halftime and the lead gets steadily bigger the rest of the way. The Wolfpack's biggest advantage is the final score.
Tracy Smith (pictured) leads the winners with 23 points, going 9-for-11 from the floor. Horner adds 13 for the Wolfpack.
C.J. Wilkerson again paces NCCU, which shoots 16.7 percent after the break to State's 78.3, with 16 points.
The Wolfpack shoots 60.0 percent for the game to NCCU's 26.5 and wins the rebound battle 36-24. NCCU commits 15 turnovers to 12 for State.
They said it ...
NCSU coach Sidney Lowe: "I was a little bit concerned early. From that point on (late first half), we picked it up. You hope that you can pick it up sometime and get going. We said, 'Let's go out and try to generate our own energy.' I thought we were patient, very patient. I thought C.J. in particular made some great reads against their zone. Our interior passing was pretty good."
NCCU coach LeVelle Moton: "I thought the difference in the game was from the three-minute mark in the first half on down. I thought we played excellent basketball and did what we wanted to do (early on), but some things just didn't go our way. We recovered at halftime, but from the 11-minute mark we kind of wore down. They did an excellent job of just pounding it in to Tracy, and for that we just don't have an answer."
Smith: "I think it was a big game for us. We needed this game coming off two straight losses. ... Coach Lowe said at halftime we needed to play with more energy. We did OK in the first half, but second half we played with more energy and we played harder than they did in the second half. I think we came out thinking we were going to beat them and started out playing on their level."
Wilkerson: "In the first half, we competed and did all the things coach wanted us to do. We came out executing the game plan and fighting hard. In the second half we came out and got away from those things. They got too many second-chance points and we made too many mental mistakes."
What does it all mean?
That the Wolfpack knows how to change gears after a halftime talk and put away an outmanned opponent. And that the Eagles have trouble keeping up with a superior opponent for all 40 minutes.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Smith's dunk from Richard Howell to make it 43-32 with 12:05 left in the game.
NCSU leads 3-0.
NCSU: Won 1.
NCCU: Lost 4.
NCCU vs. Western Illinois, Tuesday, 7 p.m.
NCSU at Virginia, Wednesday, 7 p.m.