TIM PEELER: Bethel's Big Burst
Jan. 21, 2006
BY TIM PEELER
RALEIGH -- With less than four minutes to play in the first half of Saturday's game against Wake Forest, NC State trailed by 13 points. Two of the Wolfpack starters, Cedric Simmons and Engin Atsur, had three fouls, the Demon Deacons owned the boards, and the Wolfpack was getting outhustled on both ends of the floor.
He took the ball away from Deacon freshman guard Harvey Hale near midcourt, saving the ball from going out of bounds and getting it to Ilian Evtimov for a fast-break layup, a basket that cut Wake's lead to 45-37.
On the next Wolfpack possession, he hit an open 3-pointer, his third of the game.
On the other end of the floor, Bethel forced a five-second call on Wake freshman Shamaine Dukes, preventing the Deacons from setting up any kind of end-of-half play to stop the shift in momentum.
When the buzzer sounded for intermission, Wake's 13-point lead had been cut to five, and Bethel gets most of the credit for it.
"At the end of the first half, Tony sent a message to us," Atsur said. "We weren't playing hard enough. We weren't giving great effort. Tony gave us a big lift. He pressured ... and made their point guards turn it over a couple of times. That changed the momentum.
"We had the momentum at the end of the first half and we carried it over to the second half."
By the time the game ended, the Wolfpack totally reversed its fortunes, winning a 92-82 decision in front of a sell-out crowd of 19,722.
But Bethel thought in the first half that his team could be in danger of losing its second straight game, something they have pledged not to do this season. And he knew that the team needed a burst of energy.
"We were down and it was because of our defensive intensity, or lack thereof," Bethel said. "It was very important for me to get out and pressure them and distract them from throwing the ball to their big guy. "Obviously, finishing the first half strong was big for us. We were able to do what we needed to do to get back in the game and get the win."
Like every game for the Wolfpack this season, it wasn't just the outstanding performance of one player that helped Herb Sendek's team improve to 15-3 overall and 4-2 in the ACC.
Senior Cameron Bennerman played a huge role, not only with his career-high 25 points, but also with his defensive efforts against Wake senior guard Justin Gray, who had averaged 30 points in his last three games.
Bennerman tag-teamed with Atsur in holding Gray to a miserable 5-for-22 shooting performance and just 14 points in the game.
He also hit all of his free throws, going 12-for-12, the best performance by an NC State player at the line since Todd Fuller hit all 12 of his free-throw attempts on Jan. 18, 1996, against Duke.
But Bennerman was one of the first to say that his scoring was in part due to Bethel's heady play, which contributed 11 points, four assists, a team-high six rebounds and five steals.
"Tony is a hard-nosed individual, especially on the defensive end," Bennerman said. "He did a good job of coming up with steals, getting his hands on balls, tipping it away and creating plays for other people on the team.
"With all the success I had today, he had a lot to do with it."
The victory brought to an end the Wolfpack's grueling start to the month of January, which included road games at North Carolina, Boston College and Duke and home wins over Georgia Tech and Wake Forest.
"These guys do incredible things," said Sendek, acknowledging that his team was physically and emotionally drained from its last five games. "Their size, their quickness, their strength, the plays they make under pressure in front of a lot of people. To be at such an emotional high, two, three times a week, knowing that if you have even the slightest little letdown, you don't win the game, is amazing. "To be able to gather yourself, after a win or a loss, takes a great constitution."
The Wolfpack plays its final non-conference game of the season Wednesday night against Seton Hall at the RBC Center, then gets ready for 10 consecutive league games to round out the regular season.
You may contact Tim Peeler at firstname.lastname@example.org.