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November 30, 2008RALEIGH - If it isn't broke then don't try and change it was the motto for the NC State men's basketball team Sunday.
NC State improved to 4-0 by dominating the paint against UNC Greensboro for an impressive 79-52 non-conference victory in front of 12,474 fans at the RBC Center.
The Wolfpack outscored the Spartans 50-26 in the paint, with senior center Ben McCauley leading the way with 17 points and a career-high 15 rebounds. Backup sophomore center Tracy Smith added 14 points on 7 of 11 shooting off the bench.
While McCauley and Smith handled the dirty work inside, small forward Courtney Fells flew through the air or worked the mid-range areas for a game-high 22 points on 9 of 13 shooting.
The trio of McCauley, Smith and Fells combined to go 24 for 36 from the field for a blistering 67 percent. The rest of the Wolfpack shot 10 for 36.
"Ben played a heck of a game for us today, rebounded a lot and he was efficient on the boards and was putting the ball in the hole," Fells said. "I wasn't thinking about myself scoring, but I wanted to be aggressive and create open shots for somebody else.
"If the shot came, I wanted to take it. I want to stay consistent this year, being aggressive and being there for my team because I know that score points this year."
Smith's emergence off the bench gives an added dimension for NC State, especially during games when starting redshirt junior power forward Brandon Costner doesn't have the shooting touch. Costner went 1 for 7 from the field for four points in 20 minutes, but he tried to help in other areas with Smith humming along.
"I don't think anybody can guard me in the post," Smith said. "Ben is an excellent passer, but me, I just score. Nobody is going to hold me. I'm too big, too strong. They were small, so it was easy. I would just seal it in or duck in, it was just easy."
Sophomore point guard Javier Gonzalez supplied strong on-court leadership, racking up seven assists and zero turnovers. He also had nine points, six rebounds and four steals in 28 minutes.
Gonzalez started his third-straight game with redshirt junior Farnold Degand sitting out as a precaution against UNC Greensboro. NC State coach Sidney Lowe expects Degand to be ready to go in the next game against Davidson in Charlotte on Dec. 6.
"That is one thing that we have been needing is great point guard play," McCauley said. "We got Javi and Julius coming off the bench, and then we will have Farnold coming back. That is the way Coach Lowe's offense is run, is with a great point guard."
UNC Greensboro last led 11-10 with 14:07 in the first half. That is when Smith took over, scoring eight points in leading the Wolfpack on a 18-7 run, capped off by Dennis Horner's three-point play to take a 28-18 lead.
Mixed in the run was one of several impressive passes by NC State, which finished with a season-high 22 assists and only nine turnovers. Redshirt junior shooting guard Trevor Ferguson tossed an alley-oop to Fells for a big dunk that got the crowd rocking.
"It was just a read, the play is there all the time, but we just got to make it," Fells said. "He saw me and timed it up. We were able to move the ball against their matchup zone."
McCauley took the baton from Smith to help the 18-7 run mushroom into a 29-11 spurt. The 6-foot-9 McCauley scored seven points to help build a 39-22 lead. UNC Greensboro recovered to score six straight points to cut the lead to 39-28 at halftime.
"We just concentrated on getting after it on the defensive end," McCauley said. "We want to get out and run. We want to hold the opponents to one shot and get that rebounds (plus 12 on rebounds). We can then get the ball out and run and get some easy baskets like we did.
"Tracy is really coming along well for us, and that is a continuation of how we are running our offense. Our guards are getting the ball in, and when we are one-on-one, we have a great opportunity to score."
If it wasn't McCauley or Smith scoring in the post, it was an aggressive Fells, who was looking to score. McCauley opened the second half with four-straight points, and Fells followed with six of his own. The Pack's lead started to bulge, with sharp passing usually the catalyst.
Later in the game, Gonzalez found McCauley for alley-oop feed. McCauley and Horner also had creative passes to finish the game off. McCauley found Fells to make the game 72-50, and Horner helped create a Smith slam dunk for the last score of the game.
"We were moving the ball and playing unselfish," Lowe said. "They ran their zone, and early, we took a couple of quick threes, quick shots. We settled in and started to move the ball around and make them work a little bit. We punched it inside and that is really what did it for us."
The unselfish play on the court was watched closely when the players were on the bench, which McCauley said was part of the improved team chemistry this season.
"We are more together, I think we are," McCauley said. "If we are on the bench, we are rooting for our guys, head over heels. That is great because the guys on the floor want to hear that from the guys sitting on the bench. To have that second line that go in and play well, it means a lot to them to hear it from the starters on the bench."
NC State also did a good job defensively, shutting down the Spartans' two leading scorers. Shooting guard Mikko Koivisto was given special attention, and had a Wolfpack shadow following his movements on the court. Koivisto finished with nine points on 4 of 7 shooting, which was well below his season average of 18.
NC State also held Landon Clement scoreless on 0 for 4 shooting. The Raleigh native entered the game averaging 13 points per game.
"We certainly didn't shoot the ball very well, especially in the second half," UNC Greensboro coach Mike Dement said. "That had a lot to do with their defense and shot-blocking."