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December 20, 2006

Tide tops Wolfpack 82-75

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Richard Hendrix had 23 points and 12 rebounds and Ronald Steele added 14 points in his return to Alabama's lineup, helping the 10th-ranked Crimson Tide beat North Carolina State 82-75 on Wednesday night.

Mykal Riley had 17 points and Jermareo Davidson and Alonzo Gee both added 10 for Alabama (10-1), which never trailed but nearly blew a 23-point second-half lead.

N.C. State (7-3) spent much of the second half trailing by double figures before beginning a furious, last-gasp rally led by Brandon Costner.

Costner hit three 3-pointers in the final minute, and his 3 from the left corner made it 81-75 with 21 seconds remaining. But Alabama came up with stops on consecutive possessions, stripping Costner as he attempted another 3 and forcing Costner into another turnover, to avoid what would have been a catastrophic collapse.

Steele, a first-team preseason all-America, missed two games and played only 4 minutes of a third while battling a sprained right ankle and tendinitis in his left knee. His status for this game was in question until shortly before tipoff.

He seemed a step slow and wasn't much of a threat to drive the lane, but there wasn't much wrong with his touch from long range. Most of his points came on 3-pointers as he finished 4-of-6 from beyond the arc.

Costner had 25 points on 5-of-8 shooting from 3-point range, while Ben McCauley added 24 points and Courtney Fells had 14 for N.C. State, which didn't have the size underneath to match up with the 265-pound Hendrix or the 6-foot-10 Davidson.

Hendrix had a near-perfect shooting night, making nine of his 13 shots from the field and hitting five of six free throws. His presence underneath was a big reason why N.C. State was outrebounded for the fourth time in five games.

Depth was again a problem for the Wolfpack, who played fewer than eight players for the sixth straight game. Point guard Engin Atsur sat out his fifth straight game with an injured hamstring.

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