Wolfpack ends 2-game skid

Published 6:03 pm Sunday, December 16, 2007

By By AARON BEARD, AP Sports Writer
RALEIGH — North Carolina State is still tinkering with its rotation a month into the season. At least Sidney Lowe found a little more to be encouraged about this time around.
Gavin Grant scored 23 points Saturday to help North Carolina State beat South Carolina State 74-49, ending the Wolfpack’s two-game slide and giving them their first win in nearly three weeks.
Freshman J.J. Hickson had 18 points and eight rebounds for the Wolfpack (5-3), who shot 48 percent and outrebounded an opponent for just the third time all season. And, with his team facing an overmatched opponent, Lowe treated the game as an opportunity to develop depth by substituting far more liberally than in past games and experimenting with different lineups.
At the end, nine of 10 players logged more than 11 minutes with Grant topping out at 29. It was the first time N.C. State didn’t have at least two players crack the 30-minute mark all season.
Lowe’s rotation had been a frequent source of conversation, particularly after Ben McCauley — one of the players who helped the Wolfpack overachieve last season despite playing a lot of minutes — seemed to disappear from the lineup early on. The minutes have been up and down for the Wolfpack players all season, with Lowe saying he would play whoever gave N.C. State the best chance to win.
Against the Bulldogs (3-7), Lowe wasted little time going to his bench. He brought in McCauley and Dennis Horner less than two minutes into the game, then brought freshman point guard Javi Gonzalez in about two minutes later. By halftime, reserve Simon Harris had played five minutes — two more than he had all year — while freshman Tracy Smith (13 minutes all year) had gotten into the lineup.
The players haven’t always looked completely at ease with their changing roles, particularly after the Wolfpack’s 75-69 loss at East Carolina last weekend and an 81-58 loss at Michigan State in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge on Nov. 28. But they’re promising that Saturday’s deeper bench is a sign of things to come.
N.C. State had little trouble ending its skid. After a fast start by both teams, the Wolfpack ran off 15 unanswered points — six coming from Grant — to grab a double-digit lead before cruising much of the way.
Grant finished 9-for-15 from the field, including a two-handed reverse dunk on a breakaway to end the decisive first-half run.
Hickson had another strong day, scoring 16 first-half points and hitting 10 of 13 free throws.
The Wolfpack also took a 46-35 rebounding advantage, quite a change for a team that was being outrebounded by about two boards per game coming in. N.C. State also held S.C. State to 30 percent shooting and finished with a season-high point total, cracking the 70-point mark for just the second time all year.
N.C. State led by 17 at halftime and pushed the lead to as much as 60-31 on a three-point play from McCauley with about 13 1/2 minutes left. The Wolfpack didn’t finish particularly strong, going without a field goal for more than nine minutes, but the Bulldogs got no closer than 16 the rest of the way.
Jason Johnson scored 14 points to lead S.C. State.