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    Gonzaga Downs Cold Shooting Wolfpack, 69-60
     
    Cliff Crawford tries to shoot over Cory Violette.
    Cliff Crawford tries to shoot over Cory Violette.
     

    Dec. 17, 2002

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    By Tony Haynes

    East Rutherford, N.J.--In its 69-60 loss to Gonzaga in the Jimmy V Classic on Tuesday night, NC State watched as the bulky Zags set the tone for the game on their very first possession. Five misses were followed by five straight offensive rebounds. On the fifth try, 6-11, 275 pound Gonzaga forward Richard Fox stuck the ball back in the basket, while also drawing a foul. Let the mauling begin. The Bulldogs, who led the nation in rebounding last season, went on to finish with a 61-35 rebounding advantage that also included 25 second chances on the offensive end.

    "That first possession was crazy," said Pack guard Scooter Sherrill. "We just couldn't seem to box out and come up with the rebound."

    But rebounding was only half of NC State's problem. On a night when the wind-chill factor outside the Continental Airlines Arena was well below freezing, the Wolfpack (5-1) shot a chilly 26.6 percent (17-of-64) from the floor and was just 11-of-35 from three-point range.

    "They had 25 second shots in the game, and that's very difficult to overcome," said Wolfpack head coach Herb Sendek. "They really pounded us on the backboard. Offensively, we were really ice cold. We couldn't shoot the ball any worse than we did tonight. I thought that we got some pretty good looks that if we make, it really changes the complexion of the basketball game."

    The Pack's two best offensive players--Julius Hodge and Marcus Melvin--combined to make just 6-of-29 shots. Center Josh Powell, NC State's only hope for points inside, was an icy 0-for-8. Sherrill led the Pack with 22 points, while Hodge finished with 14 and Melvin 10.

    Speaking of cold spells, the Wolfpack missed its last 19 shots of the opening half, yet somehow trailed by only five (32-27) at the break. After intermission, Hodge, who was 0-for-7 in the first 20 minutes, gave NC State some hope by drilling three long range shots to spark a 13-6 run that gave the Pack a brief 40-38 lead.

     

     

    But the momentum built up over the first several minutes would be short-lived, especially with Gonzaga's big men continuing to bully the Pack in the paint. The Bulldogs (6-3) also got some big shots from reserve guard Kyle Bankhead, who it a pair of threes and an off-balance 15-footer right at the end of the shot clock to take the air out of NC State's comeback hopes. Bankhead's last basket, which just beat the 35-second clock, gave Gonzaga a 56-50 lead with just over six minutes remaining.

    After a Levi Watkins three-pointer from the top of the key with 3:19 left pulled the Pack within three at 58-55, the Zags hung tough, making 7-of-9 free throws down the stretch to seal it.

    "I'm really proud of our guys," said Gonzaga Coach Mark Few, whose team has averaged 27 wins over the last four years. "In a short turnaround, you can't work on much, and it's obviously tough to prepare for a team like NC State, which runs such a unique style of offense. We challenged [the team] to get back to who we are, and that's playing physical, mean and nasty, and really getting back and rebounding the ball like we're capable of. It was a great effort by our guys."

    Forward Tony Skinner, who finished with 14 points, led the Zags, who also got 12 points from Cory Violette and 10--all in the second half--from Bankhead.

    With Fox often sinking back in the lane to provide help on drives and backdoor cuts, NC State rarely got anything close to the basket. And when the three-point shots stopped falling, the Pack found itself with no other offensive options.

    "Evidently, they did a good job of scouting us," said Sherrill, who managed to knock down six of his 12 three-point attempts. "They knew where we were cutting and they always had a big guy in there to block a shot."

    It was a totally different story on the end of the court, where Gonzaga scored 38 points in the paint compared to only 10 for NC State.

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