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February 29, 2012

Wolfpack pulls out 77-73 home win over Hurricanes



NC State made enough big plays down the stretch to snap its four-game losing streak.

NC State sophomore power forward C.J. Leslie set the tone early and played a near-complete game to finish with 21 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots, in the Wolfpack's 77-73 win Wednesday in front 14,682 fans at the RBC Center.

NC State improved to 19-11 overall and 8-7 in the ACC. The Wolfpack play at Virginia Tech at 6 p.m. Sunday. Both NC State and Miami are fighting to be among the 68 NCAA Tournament teams, but the Hurricanes fell to 17-11 overall and 8-7 in the league.

Leslie said he was challenged this week to step up and become more of a leader and create energy for the Wolfpack. Leslie has scored 20-plus points in three of his last four games.

"I'm just motivating my team right now," said Leslie, who had his fifth double-double for points and rebounds this season. "We have find somewhere to get it going. We had lost four straight games, so we knew we had to come out and get this one. We wanted this one.

"We've been having trouble finishing it, so that's big for us, and we'll take that."

NC State's tourney fate still rests in its hands, but the Wolfpack will need a win over Virginia Tech and at least two victories in the ACC Tournament could be needed to build a stronger case. NCSU hasn't played in the NCAA Tournament since 2006.

"I think we aren't dead yet and still have a pulse," NC State first-year coach Mark Gottfried said. "I think we've had some tough nights and our team could have folded. We are showing some resiliency and I like that."

NC State has had Miami's number the last three years, winning its fourth straight against the Hurricanes.

"Do you think NC State is a good team? I do," Miami first-year coach Jim Larranaga said. "We lost to a very good team tonight by one shot. Ask anybody in the conference how tough it is to win on the road in this league, except Carolina and Duke."

The one-two inside punch of Leslie and junior center Richard Howell proved strong in the second half. Howell had 12 of his 14 points after halftime, and added nine rebounds and three assists in overcoming first-half foul trouble.

The NC State inside game complemented the long-range prowess of junior small forward Scott Wood. The three-point bomber has struggled getting easy looks the previous five games, combining to go 7 of 38 from the field and 6 of 25 from three-point range.

Wood hit a three-pointer for the Wolfpack's second field goal of the game and never let up. He went 5 of 10 from beyond the arc to finish with 15 points, with his last three-pointer a game-changer.

Miami redshirt senior combo guard Malcolm Grant, who snapped out of his own slump of late with four three-pointers and 14 points, tied the game at 69-69 with 1:36 left. Wood calmly answered with a three-pointer of his own to give NCSU a 72-69 lead with 1:08 left.

"Any time you can get good looks, most of them are going to fall," Wood said. "They all felt good today. After the last four games, they all felt good."

NC State is simply a different team when Wood stretches the defense. He previously had 21 points and four three-pointers in the win over the Hurricanes in Coral Gables, Fla.

"He is a great shooter and he just needs to make a couple," Gottfried said. "If he makes a couple, everything will change for him, and it did. I was glad to see him get back on track."

Miami kept challenging, but couldn't get over the hump, due in part to Leslie grabbing a big offensive rebound after a missed Howell free throw with 16.4 seconds left and the Wolfpack clinging to a 74-73 lead. Sophomore point guard Lorenzo Brown got fouled and made both free throws to stretch the lead to 76-73 with 12.6 seconds left.

Grant came down and missed a tough three-point attempt, and Leslie put the game away by splitting his free throws with 3.1 seconds left.

"We are just getting a lot better," said Brown, who had 16 points and five assists. "Coach always told us toward the end of the season that is when we are going to play our best."

NC State featured four players in double figures, and a fifth came through with an efficient game off the bench. Fifth-year senior point guard Alex Johnson chipped in five points, eight assists, zero turnovers and drew two charges on defense. The Wolfpack finished with just seven turnovers and had 19 assists on 28 made field goals.

"There was a stretch in their where I didn't want to take him [Johnson] out," Gottfried said.

The Wolfpack played one of their smoothest offensive games in ACC action, outside of their free-throw shooting. NCSU went 14 of 26 at the line with Leslie and Howell the two main culprits, combing to go 10 of 21.

Miami's twin towers struggled matching up with the quicker, more explosive Leslie. Kenny Kadji went 3 of 14 from the field for seven points, and Reggie Johnson added 10 points and eight rebounds, but picked up his fourth foul with 9:59 left in the game and never returned. The two redshirt juniors punished the Wolfpack inside in the previous meeting Jan. 22 for a combined 32 points.

"One thing with Miami, we thought we could take advantage of their size," Gottfried said. "They're very big and we thought our bigs could out-run them. I thought we got back into that up-tempo style that we want to have tonight."

Larranaga came away impressed with Leslie and the Wolfpack.

"[Leslie] plays like their whole team," Larranaga said. "They are so skilled. He can shoot the jump shot, drive to the basket, get lobs. When you have that many weapons, there is very little that you can do defensively to help your guy on the ball."

Miami shot just 35.6 percent from the field (26 of 73), and were led by sophomore shooting guard Rion Brown's 15 points. Junior guard Durand Scott chipped in 10 points and 11 rebounds.


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