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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

UnPacking

Posted by on Wed, Mar 4, 2009 at 11:14 PM

RBC CENTER/ RALEIGH—I got a free ticket to tonight's N.C. State 74-69 win over Boston College. A few notes about the experience, led by this one: Why isn't State better than their record, and why is BC as good as theirs? Watching tonight's game, it was as if the two teams had swapped won-lost marks.

1) The quietest I've ever heard thousands of people get was tonight, just before the national anthem was played. Corey Smith, a professional football player who played college ball at N.C. State, was lost at sea in a boating accident off the Florida coast this week. The moment of silence that was held to honor Smith's memory was a truly stunned silence -- stunned in that way that is unacknowledging, even unaccepting of death. Until and unless Smith's body is recovered, any mention of his stunning passing may be met with a similar kind of silence. Tom Stoppard once observed that "death is the failure to reappear," but I think he's wrong about that: you're not really dead until we see your unbreathing body. Until then, a denying silence.

2) The RBC Center never got very loud even after Smith was honored. Some readers smartly pointed out that N.C. State was on spring break (a week earlier than UNC and Duke). But even with many students gone, it was a surprise that the 20,000-seat arena was barely half full. (The announced attendance, over 15,000, was a clear exaggeration; whole sections of the RBC Center were virtually empty.) The crowd observed the proceedings with a generally sedate air. And the game, though close, was a bit lackluster. The Wolfpack have sold out only one game this season: UNC, which brought its fans along to the game; one wonders if the NCSU basketball program was best served by moving out of Reynolds Coliseum, which was a loud and riotous place to watch basketball. It hasn't helped that the team hasn't been at an elite level over the last few years, either, but as Duke has shown with its stubborn adherence to tiny Cameron Indoor Stadium, sometimes the best way to attract fans is by making it hard for them to get into games; it's a simple supply-and-demand manipulation. If it's too easy to go to a game, the mystique of doing so wears off.

3) What is with N.C. State? Well, you could do worse than read Ryan Campbell's look at the team's turnaround since Tracy Smith became a starter. Indeed, Smith had another solid game -- or so it seemed to a casual observer (Ryan, back me up?) -- with 14 points on 63% shooting, plus five rebounds. Smith's contributions were all the more critical given that the Pack's smooth-shooting guard Courtney Fells, who scored eleven first-half points (including making all three of his three-point shots), sat out the entire second half with an apparent groin injury. Moreover, the Pack's leading scorer, Brandon Costner, managed only eight points. Reserve forward Dennis Horner offset Costner's lackluster night with 11 points, including a huge late three-pointer that more or less put the game away. But the ox that dragged the Pack to victory was Big Ben McCauley, who led all scorers with 20 points and added a team-high six rebounds. This team may do some damage in the NIT.

3) What is with Boston College? Other than star guard Tyrese Rice and sharpshooter Rakim Sanders, the Eagles don't seem to have much talent, yet this team has beaten UNC (at UNC!) and Duke, and had already beaten N.C. State once earlier this season (not to mention Providence and Iowa). But they had also lost to St. Louis and (gag) Harvard (at home!). You have to give college basketball stat wizard Ken Pomeroy credit: his system predicted that BC would lose tonight, 74-71. That's a phenomenally close forecast. When Boston College Head Coach Al Skinner took a late timeout, his first move was to separate Rice and teammate Corey Raji, who started jawing as soon as they reached the huddle. Discord rules here, it seems; and tonight, Rice missed all five of his three-pointers and committed five turnovers while seeming generally out of rhythm and enclosed in his own little bubble. Speaking of bubbles, tonight's loss was a bad one, but the Eagles are probably going to make the NCAA tournament anyway. Their soft inside game, however, could make them vulnerable to an early exit if they draw a team stocked with trees, especially if BC plays as sluggishly as it did tonight, and if Rice never starts to cook.

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