No. 16 NC State 82, UNC Asheville 80

Richard Howell kept ripping down rebounds and tussling in the
paint until he came through with the clutch plays that helped No.
16 North Carolina State regroup from its first loss of the
season.

As for the rest of the game, well, coach Mark Gottfried had
plenty of reason for frustration.

Howell scored 23 points, including the go-ahead basket with 3:06
left, to help the Wolfpack rally past UNC Asheville 82-80 on Friday
night. But N.C. State trailed nearly the entire game and couldn’t
shake free of the Bulldogs until the final minutes, turning what
should have been a chance to bounce back into a flirtation with an
ugly home loss.

”We’ve got to be better,” Gottfried said. ”We’ve got to be
better defensively. We’ve got to develop better chemistry amongst
our team. We’ve got to develop a team spirit that is all about
winning – period. Nothing else.

”If we do that, we’ve got a chance to be a good team. If we
don’t, then we’re just another team out there playing.”

For most of Friday night, N.C. State (4-1) looked like the
latter. The Wolfpack kept bumbling away possessions, couldn’t stop
UNC Asheville’s Jeremy Atkinson and just looked a step slow en
route to trailing by seven with 8 1/2 minutes left.

Howell’s big night helped reverse that, from his 15 rebounds to
his two key free throws with 5 seconds left that helped secure the
win.

”We’re satisfied with the win but we’re not satisfied with the
type of win,” Howell said. ”We felt like we should’ve come out
and played with the same energy (we had) the last 6 minutes of the
game. If we played like that, then I feel it wouldn’t have been a
ballgame.”

Things will have to get better quickly. N.C. State travels to
No. 4 Michigan in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Tuesday night.

N.C. State was coming off a 20-point loss to Oklahoma State in
the Puerto Rico Tipoff championship game Sunday. Its struggles
continued against an aggressive and opportunistic bunch of Bulldogs
(1-5) who wouldn’t go away.

While N.C. State shot 62 percent after halftime and 56 percent
for the game, it committed 19 turnovers that UNC Asheville
converted into 31 points. The Bulldogs scored the game’s first six
points to build some confidence, trailed for just 22 seconds in the
first half and kept the Wolfpack chasing them all night.

”I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I was expecting to blow them
out by 40,” said senior Scott Wood, who had 14 points and a pair
of late jumpers in the decisive surge. ”That’s how I feel about
every team I play. I mean, it was a close game. They played
extremely well. But at the same time, I feel like we need to come
out there and try to step on their throats early.”

Meanwhile, the 6-foot-4 Atkinson frustrated the Wolfpack the
entire way by being quick enough to get his shot off the dribble or
strong enough to muscle around in the paint. He finished with a
career-high 28 points while the Wolfpack tried at least three
different defenders on him during the game.

”I’ll take a two-point loss here in Raleigh against a ranked
16th team in the nation any day,” Atkinson said. ”I told the team
in the locker room that we have a long season ahead. If we play
like this in the Big South (Conference), we will kill in the Big
South and beat every team by 30.”

UNC Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach, a former Wolfpack player,
wasn’t quite as chipper afterward.

”We just let this one get away,” he said.

Howell put the Wolfpack ahead for good at 70-69 when he
corralled a deflected pass and scored in the paint while drawing an
intentional foul.

He hit one free throw, then Wood followed with a straightaway
jumper on what amounted to a five-point possession that gave N.C.
State a four-point lead. Two possessions later, Wood answered a
3-pointer by Trent Meyer with one of his own, losing Keith Hornsby
around a screen on the right wing to make it 76-72 with 1:16
left.

UNC Asheville got as close as 80-78 on a three-point play from
Hornsby (23 points) with 16.5 seconds left, but Howell made it a
two-possession game with his free throws and the Bulldogs managed a
meaningless putback just before the buzzer to end it.

Lorenzo Brown added 18 points while C.J. Leslie had 14 points
and 11 rebounds for N.C. State, which improved to 18-0 all-time
against UNC Asheville.