by Bob Geary
Being Dennis Horner was an excellent thing on Senior Day. The N.C. State senior broke out with 11 points in the final seven minutes of the game against Boston College, helping turn a tight defensive struggle into a 12-point Wolfpack romp. The final: 66-54, State.
Horner finished with 14 points and left to a "Den-nis Hor-ner, Den-nis Hor-ner" serenade from the fans, who watched him get everything out of his game that was there over four solid years, the first three as a dependable sub and this year as a steady-contributing starter.
Another day at the office for Tracy Smith, who put up 19 points and 7 rebounds in a bid for, I'd say, second-team all-ACC? (Heck, he could be first-team: Vasquez, Delaney, Scheyer, Booker and ???' Nobody who deserves it more than Smith is coming to mind.)
Smith played good ball all year long for a team that would've been in a big trouble -- like, no ACC wins -- without him.
Plaudits today, too, for C.J. Williams, who backed up his usual good defensive play with a number of strong offensive drives to the basket (and one miraculous 3 to beat an expiring shot clock). His last drive -- a hard move across the lane from the right wing to a full-extension left-hander that just rolled in and earned him an and-one (but he didn't hit it) -- made it 59-50, finishing BC off. Williams had 14 points, nine in the second half.
Julius Mays also played well in relief of Javi Gonzalez, who was in foul trouble early and managed just 19 minutes, most of them ineffective. Javi did make a running shot with 1:12 left and BC back within eight at 62-54. Mays, in 23 minutes, had six points, four assists and if they calculated the plus-minus score for the time he was in the game, State came from behind in the first half and pulled away in the second half when he was in the game.
At 5-11, State's ACC record won't be remembered in the annals. But this was a team that, with Smith and not much else in the way of actual talent, fought hard all year long, and bounced back after every miserable loss (and there were some) to finish well. Coach Sidney Lowe thinks they may finally have figured out, individually and as a group, what it takes for them to win. What it takes is, imo, playing strong, because they aren't fast -- Farnold Degand excepted -- but they are physical. That and making some shots, which they didn't do much in the first half today (it ended 24-23, State) but did in the second half.
"I'm proud of how resilient this group has been," Lowe said.
Ironically, State finishes in a tie with the light-blue team from Chapel Hill despite having lost to them twice. State beat Duke, Wake Forest and Florida State, three of the better teams in the ACC. Had State beaten that very bad light-blue team either time they played, the Pack would be closer to the middle of the ACC and the light-blue team last, which is where it deserved to be.
On to the tournament, where as Lowe says, no matter if a team would beat you nine times out of 10 if the one time you beat them is at tournament time.
Smith, C.J. and Horner brought State back from a 44-40 deficit with eight minutes left.