If this was a game N.C. State had to have, had to win, the Wolfpack got it.
After losing its first two ACC games, the Pack was facing a Louisville team badly struggling under first-year coach Kenny Payne. The game Thursday was at PNC Arena and the Pack was a 17-point favorite by some of the Vegas oddsmakers.
Leading by three points after a slog of a first half, the Wolfpack punched out a 76-64 victory as center D.J. Burns had a team-high 17 points and Casey Morsell 15.
Sophomore Terquavion Smith, shaking off some poor first-half shooting, finished with 14 points and Jack Clark also had 14 for the Wolfpack (11-3, 1-2 ACC) in putting away the Cardinals (2-11, 0-3), who got 16 points from hard-working post player Sydney Curry.
After beating Vanderbilt in its last game Saturday in Chicago, the Wolfpack did not want to take a step back. The Pack lost to Pitt in its ACC opener at PNC Arena., then lost the lead late in a loss at Miami.
Payne’s Louisville coaching staff includes Danny Manning and Nolan Smith, no strangers to the ACC. But the Cards, beaten by Lipscomb in their last game, are low on talent.
The frustration showed in the second half when Payne had to be held back by Manning in front of the Cards bench and picked up a technical foul.
Smith could not find his 3-point touch in the first half. He hit his first 3 of the game with 17:41 left in the second half and immediately added another, making sure the Cards’ Jae’Lyn Withers knew about it and getting a referee’s warning.
When Clark followed with a dunk and added a free throw for a 3-point play, the Wolfpack had suddenly spurted to a 42-33 lead four minutes into the second half.
The Cardinals turned to a zone defense, but Smith drained another 3. The Pack worked the ball inside for a Burns’ layup, Morsell knocked down a 3-pointer for a 50-33 lead and N.C. State was on its way to its first ACC win.
The Cardinals managed to pull within 56-46, but the Pack countered.
Neither team played very good basketball in the first half, which ended with the Pack leading 31-28 but with little to feel good about in the first 20 minutes.
Burns had a nice touch inside. Morsell hit a few 3s. But Smith, guarded closely by 6-5 freshman Mike James, was firing blanks and missing some free throws, and there was nothing smooth about the Wolfpack’s halfcourt offense.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Morsell pushed the Pack in front 25-21, but the Cardinals kept attacking the Pack off the dribble and hit enough shots to stay close.
Louisville had nine first-half turnovers, some of them unforced, as the Wolfpack extended the pressure up the floor and looked to be disruptive