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February 3, 2009RALEIGH - The NC State men's basketball team is used to being taller than their opponents, but the Wolfpack's height advantage reached new levels Tuesday at the RBC Center.
The combination of losing its top rebounder and tallest player to a broken arm left North Carolina Central to essentially playing a three-guard lineup with a wing and a finesse power forward. The results weren't pretty on the interior without 6-foot-9, 220-pound Stevy Worah-Ozimo.
NC State 6-9 redshirt junior power forward Brandon Costner scored 25 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, and 6-9 senior center Ben McCauley had 17 points and 12 rebounds in leading the Wolfpack to a dominating 87-59 victory over North Carolina Central. NC State improved to 12-8 overall, while NCCU fell to 2-23.
"Brandon was big on the offensive boards and the tip-ins, and our bigs really controlled the inside game and the boards," NCSU coach Sidney Lowe said. "We felt we should have an advantage there, but we knew they would trap down and front the post. I thought our bigs were patient enough."
The Wolfpack crushed the Eagles on the interior, holding a 54-14 advantage on rebounding, and outscored NCCU 52-18 in the paint. NC State grabbed 19 offensive rebounds, and scored on numerous layups and dunks, helping the Wolfpack shoot 33 of 57 for the game for 57.9 percent.
The 54 rebounds were the most for NC State since posting 51 against UNC Asheville on Dec. 15, 2001, and the mark tied an RBC Center record set Dec. 17, 1999 against Liberty. The 40-rebound advantage was the best since the Wolfpack had a 42-rebound edge against UNC Asheville (73-29) on Dec. 6, 1975. The school record is 49, set twice in the mid-1950s.
NC Central pulled within nine points after guard Jamar Briscoe made three-straight free throws to cut the Wolfpack's lead to 56-47 with 12:47 left in the game.
NC State reacted with a play the team and coaches have been waiting on for nearly a year and a half.
Redshirt freshman Johnny Thomas, who is trying to come back from a serious knee injury, threw down a powerful dunk on NCCU 6-foot-6, 246-pound reserve forward Norbert Randall that erupted the Wolfpack bench and the fans in attendance.
"I was confused why the other guy [Randall] jumped because obviously he doesn't know Johnny that well," McCauley said. "He made a great play and finished strong. If we were playing on TV that definitely would have been a top 10 highlight."
The Thomas electrifying dunk helped spark a 16-0 run that put away the game. The Wolfpack outscored the Eagles down the stretch 31-12.
Thomas finished with nine points and three rebounds in 17 minutes off the bench and was proud of his first monster dunk in a NC State uniform.
"This was one that I was hoping for the rest of the season," Thomas said. "I'm glad that it came this soon. Hopefully, I can get some more later in the season. I guess [you can call it] a 'Johnny Thomas special.'"
Thomas has gone through an arduous knee rehabilitation amidst speculation that he might never play again. He originally injured his knee in Sept. 2007.
"Some days I feel 100 percent and some days I feel 90 percent," Thomas said. "It doesn't go any lower than that. All-around, it feels great and I'm just building off of that."
Costner and McCauley joked that they are smart enough to not be in the way when Thomas tries to dunk on them in practice, or the savvy veterans make sure he never reaches the rim.
"I'm fouling the heck out of him before he even tries to get up there," McCauley said. "A lot of us in practice know not to get near him."
"Every once in a while we'll challenge him, " Costner said. "He'll end up on the floor instead of dunking on us. I was surprised the kid was trying to block him. He ended up on a poster."
Thomas' teammates give him credit for everything that he has overcome since his arrival in Raleigh.
"I'm really proud of Johnny," said Costner, who also missed his freshman season because of injury. "I've watched him grow ever since he came here. I can definitely relate to him after I had to sit out a year. I'm just impressed by his dedication and love for the game."
The 5-10, 155-pound Briscoe kept North Carolina Central afloat on offense with a game-high 28 points, including going 5 of 9 from three-point range. With his knack for getting his shot off, Lowe decided to put the 6-6 Courtney Fells on him in the second half, which made it difficult for Briscoe to free himself up for a good look at the basket.
Fells also continued his hot-shooting ways of late, making 3 of 5 from three-point range to finish with 15 points, plus eight rebounds and five assists.
"I found the rhythm early, and when you have good shooting nights, you know," Briscoe said. "Fells is 6-6, 6-7, and for a minute there, he made me second-guess my shots because he's so long. He's a good player and he was giving me words of encouragement during the game. I take my hat off to Courtney Fells."
NC State returns to ACC action on Saturday at Virginia Tech on Raycom television.
"It's a tough game in the middle of the ACC season to throw this in there, but it's good that some of the guys that don't play as much were able to get some time," McCauley said. "It was just a momentum builder for when we play Virginia Tech on Saturday."