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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Follow the Yellow Jacket road

Posted by Google on Sat, Feb 14, 2009 at 8:50 PM

TV/RAYCOM—There's no place like home—or Atlanta—when it comes to padding the win column for the N.C. State men's basketball team. No team in the ACC carries a wider disparity between their home and away winning percentage than the Wolfpack, even after their impressive 86-65 victory at Georgia Tech. This is N.C. State's first conference road win this year and only their second road victory overall (the other being the first game of the season at New Orleans). Still, between this and the recent, narrow overtime loss at Virginia Tech, N.C. State is finally exhibiting some signs of heart on the road instead of just recoiling like cowardly lions.

As in the win against Wake Forest three days ago, it was a balanced attack that led the Pack to victory. Coming off a 12-point, 12-rebound performance against the Demon Deacons, sophomore forward Tracy Smith scored a game-high 18 points to go with 10 rebounds against the Yellow Jackets. He was one of six players to score in double-figures for N.C. State, including 11 points each from C.J. Williams and Dennis Horner off the bench. Ironically, second-leading scorer Ben McCauley only tallied four points along with four turnovers, which comes off a five-point outing against Wake Forest.

Of course, it helps when cellar-dwelling Georgia Tech continues to perform like, well, a rambling wreck.

 Georgia Tech shot a dismal 38.5 percent from the field, as opposed to a blistering, season-high 61.4 percent for the Wolfpack. The Jackets turned the ball over 15 times and committed 21 fouls. For the season, Georgia Tech has one conference victory (two weeks ago against suddenly mortal Wake Forest), and the only game remaining on their schedule that looks somewhat winnable is a March 4 contest against Miami in Atlanta.

So, this was a game N.C. State needed to win and, indeed, should have won; the size of their victory was admittedly highbrow-raising. But, as optimistic as the Wolfpack deserves to be about their recent performance, a couple of sobering statistics deserve mention. First, after having 20-plus turnovers in only one of their first 19 games this season, N.C. State has now exceeded that mark three out of the last four. N.C. State is struggling mightily against their opponents' pressure defense: Against the Yellow Jackets, the three-guard set of Javi Gonzalez, Courtney Fells, and Farnold Degand combined for 10 of the team's 21 turnovers. Gonzalez and Fells did score 14 points each, but as well as N.C. State is playing lately, Coach Sidney Lowe better quickly figure out if there are some ruby slippers that can improve his team's ball control if he hopes stave off UNC's quickness in Chapel Hill this Wednesday.

Second, only two of the Wolfpack's victories this season—Wake Forest and Miami—have come against teams with a schedule strength ranking in the top 100 (Georgia Tech is currently 156), and both of those wins took place in Raleigh. Only one of the Pack's final six regular season opponents—Virginia—has a RPI ranking in triple digits, and the rematch against Miami is a road game. Still, remaining games against Maryland and Boston College will be in the RBC Center, and the Wolfpack's performance then will take a more accurate measure of whether Coach Lowe is finally working some wizardry or whether we need to start paying attention to the man behind the curtain.

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