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    Melvin, Pack Outlast Panthers, 77-71
     
    Cameron Bennerman goes for the block.
    Cameron Bennerman goes for the block.
     

    Dec 7, 2003

    Box Score

    By Tony Haynes

    Raleigh, N.C.--Marcus Melvin knew it and so did his coach, Herb Sendek: NC State can't possibly be the basketball team it hopes to become without major offensive production from its versatile senior forward. Averaging below 10 points through his first four games, Melvin came back with a vengeance on Sunday, posting career highs of 27 points and 13 rebounds as NC State turned back Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 77-71. In improving its record to 4-1, the Pack also got 16 points from junior Julius Hodge, 13 off the bench from Levi Watkins, and 11 from forward Ilian Evtimov.

    Held to just 2-of-7 shooting to go along with five turnovers in NC State's 68-61 loss at Michigan last Tuesday, Melvin made it known early that he wouldn't have a repeat performance when he hit three of his first four shots over the first two minutes against the Panthers.

    "I felt like we had to have this one, just like we have to have the rest of the games," said Melvin, who knocked down 10-of-18 shots from the floor. "We had a tough loss at Michigan. They outrebounded us and they made us look like children on the backboard. I wanted to come out tonight with a very aggressive mindset. I think this is where I'll be from now on."

    Speaking of aggressive mindsets, Wisconsin-Milwaukee (3-2), which went to the NCAA Tournament with a 24-8 record last season, came out firing and put NC State in a deep hole early. Getting 11 points from star forward Dylan Page and eight more from Joah Tucker, the Panthers hit nine of their first 12 shots to jump out to a 26-14 lead 10 minutes into the game. In fact, without the early efforts of Melvin, who had 14 points and nine rebounds in the opening half, the Pack would have really found itself up against the wall even more in the first 20 minutes.

     

     

    But after Page buried a jumper to give Wisconsin-Milwaukee a 28-16 advantage with just over eight minutes remaining in the half, NC State turned it on, outscoring the Panthers 23-10 the rest of the way to grab a 39-38 lead at the break.

    "We just really dug down deep," Sendek said of the early first half deficit. "It was a gut check. Guys really stepped up and I thought Marcus Melvin in particular really got us over the hump."

    Hitting just 2-of-12 from 3-point range in the opening half, the Pack worked its way back in it with some tough work on the offensive glass, getting 11 second chance points off of just six offensive rebounds.

    The second half was a grind until NC State opened a little breathing room with a mini nine-to-two spurt midway through the period. Up by only 56-55 with 11:40 remaining, the Wolfpack used layups by Cameron Bennerman, Scooter Sherrill and a stick-back basket by Melvin, plus two Hodge free throws to open up a 65-57 lead.

    But the fast-paced, pressing Panthers were still in it, trailing by only five when Watkins drained the biggest shot of the game with four minutes left. After Evtimov got away from a double-team in the backcourt with a behind-the-back dribble, the Pack passed ahead to Watkins, who drilled a 3-pointer from the left-hand corner to make it 72-64.

    "It was big because we were shaky with the ball at the beginning of that press, but once we got it over halfcourt, that was a huge three," Sendek said. "He's been shooting the ball with a lot of confidence all fall."

    Following Watkins' clutch shot, the Panthers were never really able to mount a serious run, thanks to some deadly free throw shooting by Hodge down the stretch. As a team, NC State hit 18-of-21 free throws after intermission, and Hodge was 11-of-12, with eight of his attempts coming over the last three minutes. On a night when he was just 2-of-8 from the field, Hodge scored 12 of his 16 points from the line.

    After turning the ball over 37 times in its previous two games, NC State took much better care of the basketball on Sunday, finishing with just 10 turnovers in what was a very high possession contest.

    Despite hitting only 4-of-19 from 3-point range, NC State shot 45.3 percent (24-of-53) from the floor, while Wisconsin-Milwaukee shot 43.8 percent (28-of-64), including just 36.4 percent in the second half.

    "It was a great test for us," said Panthers coach Bruce Pearl. "NC State presents so many challenges, especially for us defensively because they run such a brilliant offense that's so well spaced. I thought they did a good enough job executing it. We didn't turn them over as much as we would have liked."

    Page, who sustained what Pearl called a "deep thigh contusion in the first half," tallied 22 points on 8-of-23 shooting from the floor. The Panthers also got 16 points from 3-point specialist Ed McCants and 13 from Tucker.

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