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December 23, 2007

NC State finishes off Cincinnati

The North Carolina State men's basketball dominated the free-throw line to hold off Cincinnati on Sunday.

Cincinnati committed 35 fouls and NC State made a living at the free-throw line, making 37 of 50 free throws, to defeat the Bearcats 85-77 in front of 14,648 at the RBC Center.

NC State won its third straight game to improve to 7-3 overall with a road game against Seton Hall up next Thursday night.

"We've done a nice job the last couple of games holding on to the lead," NC State coach Sidney Lowe said. "More importantly, we were making plays when we had to. We were able to make free throws down the stretch."

NC State controlled the game from start-to-finish, trailing only once (3-2 early), but the Wolfpack's lead grew a little perilous down the stretch. NC State took a commanding 66-57 lead with 6:15 left following a pair of Courtney Fells' free throws.

NCSU's lead was shaved down to 70-67 following a free throw by Marcus Sikes with 3:28 left in the game. It's a situation the Wolfpack have experienced in numerous games this year, some resulting in losses such as New Orleans or East Carolina, but others which ended in wins, including the recent Davidson win Friday.

The Wolfpack responded with a big 7-2 run sparked by five points from senior small forward Gavin Grant, who finished with 15 points and five rebounds.

"We are still a young team, but us winning this game shows some maturity," Grant said.

NC State made 23 more free throws than Cincinnati attempted (10 of 14), with shooting guard Fells making 10 of 11.

"We knew they were a very physical team coming out of the Big East, so we just wanted to come ready to play and match their intensity and take care of the ball," Fells said. "We've really been concentrating at practice on our free throw shooting. We wanted to have the confidence of keep putting points on the board."

Freshman point guard Javi Gonzalez went 6 of 8 off the bench at the free-throw line, filling in for injured starter Farnold Degand, who departed with 4:13 left after injuring his left knee after getting fouled on a drive to the basket.

"They were very aggressive with us, but I thought our guys kept their composure," Lowe said. "Javi did a great job coming in for Farnold late in the game, making key free throws and taking care of the basketball."

Redshirt sophomore power forward Brandon Costner came out on fire scoring 10 of the Wolfpack's first 14 points, en route to a game-high 20 points. He snapped out of his recent funk, shooting 4 of 6 from 3-point land and helped set the tone early.

"I didn't feel any difference than I've felt all year," Costner said. "It is nice to see them go through, but that is what I expect out of myself. I'm not playing well if I'm not getting it done like that."

The Wolfpack's offense was flowing smoothly the first 15 minutes, but with the rash of foul calls in the second half, it made it difficult to find a sustained rhythm.

NC State was able to avenge last year's 80-71 loss to Cincinnati, which featured 32 Wolfpack turnovers. NCSU cut its turnovers down to 10 this time around, and had 15 assists. It was the second time all season the Wolfpack had more assists than turnovers.

"The ball was moving," Lowe said. "The times we didn't get a shot, it was probably because of a questionable decision of holding the ball and not kicking it ahead. I thought Brandon and Gavin did a nice job of pushing it ahead and finding the open man. We were able to hit some open shots."

Cincinnati fell to 4-7 overall and were led by Deonta Vaughn's 19 points and four assists.


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