Wolfpack Whips Maryland, 85-69
Jan. 23, 2005
By Tony Haynes
College Park, MD. - Wind chills were hovering below zero when NC State exited its bus and walked into the Comcast Center for Sunday's game at Maryland. But once inside, it took very little very time for the Wolfpack to heat up. Building a 26-point lead at the half, the Pack didn't repeat what happened at the ACC Tournament last year when it blew a 21-point advantage to the Terps. This time, the Pack held on and walked back into the cold with a satisfying 85-69 victory. Posting his third straight double double, Julius Hodge led NC State (12-6, 2-3) with 20 points and 11 rebounds.
Another key performer for the Wolfpack was Engin Atsur, who foiled Maryland's second half run with a pair of huge 3-point shots down the stretch. The sophomore from Istanbul, Turkey finished with 17 points, six assists and zero turnovers against the Terrapins' relentless fullcourt pressure.
And Atsur stepped up when the Pack needed him most. Missing 15 of its first 18 shots to start the second half, NC State saw its lead trimmed to just 10 when Nik Caner-Medley hit two free throws for the Terps at the 7:56 mark.
All of a sudden, the Maryland faithful sensed another miracle comeback. On the NC State bench, it was hard not to remember what happened in last year's tourney semifinals. That's when Atsur silenced the joint with a long 3 from the right wing to put the Pack up by 13 with 6:28 left. Less than a minute later, Atsur answered again with another bomb to give his team a 69-55 bulge.
"It was really clutch," said Wolfpack head coach Herb Sendek. "Just to show you the kind of person he is, the kind of character and toughness he has, he had started the second half by missing [four straight shots]. But he didn't flinch. He rose up and hit those two when the game hung in the balance with the crowd getting into it on the road."
Following Atsur's heroics, Hodge then put the game out of reach by scoring seven consecutive points over a two-minute span on three free throws and a pair of field goals. Hodge's last basket with 2:45 emptied the arena and sent NC State well on its way to its second straight triumph in College Park.
"You don't think last year's ACC Tournament game was on our minds?" Sendek asked. "It was, so to overcome that demon on top of everything else wasn't easy. You would be hardpressed to think that Maryland wasn't going to have a run at some point in the game. When they did, that demon was right there. Our guys refused to yield and ended up getting the lead back up to a comfortable margin again."
It's hard to imagine anyone going into Maryland's backyard and building a 26-point lead in one half of basketball, but that's exactly what the Wolfpack did. Simply put, NC State was nearly perfect in the opening 20 minutes while the Terps (11-5, 2-3) were dreadful. Making his first start, freshman guard Gavin Grant (12 points, four assists) got the Wolfpack going with two early 3s to make it 6-1less than two minutes in. From there, the Pack continued to pour it on, jumping out to a 13-4 lead that forced Maryland coach Gary Williams to call a timeout with more than 17 minutes left in the half.
Atsur made 3-5 from the arc in the opening half. Ilian Evtimov, who finished with 16 points, knocked down 2-of-3 from long range and 4-6 overall from the floor. During one flurry, NC State outscored Maryland 21-3, a run that made the score 39-13.
On the flip side, the Terps could do nothing right, making just 5-of-20 from the floor for 25 percent to go along with 10 turnovers. The Wolpack even won the battle of the boards in the first half, 19-16.
No wonder NC State went to the locker room with a stunning 53-27 lead.
When the dust had settled, the Wolfpack had drilled 10-of-18 from 3-point range, but the first half dominance was not restricted to just long-range shooting. Turning the ball over only three times, the Pack shot 54.5 percent, outscored Maryland 14-4 in the paint and had 16 points off of turnovers compared to none for the Terrapins.
"That was the most unselfish half for us," said Atsur, who knocked down 5-of-10 3-point shots. "We just played together, and that's what we must do in this environment against a great team."
As expected, Maryland opened the second half with fullcourt pressure, and seemed to rattle the Wolfpack for several minutes. With NC State missing shot after shot, the Terps went on a 26-8 run that cut its deficit to just 10. But Atsur would have nothing of it, swinging the momentum back the Pack's favor with his dagger 3s.
Atsur was also poised under pressure with his ball-handling. Although he played all but one minute on Sunday, the cagy guard did not have a single turnover. And as a team, NC State had just nine against a Maryland club that was forced to press for most of the game.
"They pressured us all game," Atsur said. "I think the whole team did a good job of keeping the turnovers down. We protected the ball really well."
Held scoreless in the first half, Caner-Medley scored all of his team-leading 15 points after halftime. And even though it was able to shoot 52 percent in the second half, Maryland wasn't able to overcome 19 turnovers that resulted in 21 NC State points.
Wolfpack guard Cameron Bennerman, out for an indefinite period of time with a hyper-extended elbow, sat on the bench wearing a special brace on his arm. But the Pack did get some minutes from Tony Bethel, who has missed four games since being diagnosed with colitis. Bethel played just two minutes and didn't score.