RALEIGH, N.C. (AP)—Julius Hodge jokingly compared himself to Terrell Owens and then declared he should be the Heisman Trophy winner of college basketball.
Just being himself was good enough.
Hodge had 22 points to offset some horrible shooting by his teammates, leading No. 16 North Carolina State to a 60-53 victory over Purdue on Monday night in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
Playing in his 100th career game, Hodge added eight rebounds and five assists, while Ilian Evtimov scored 12 points and Cameron Bennerman had 11 for N.C. State.
“Just missing shots,” was how Hodge explained the poor performance. “That’s going to happen. I’m going to keep going to my guys, though.”
That he did. Praised by his coaches for his unselfishness after the Wolfpack cruised through to the title in the BCA Invitational to start the season, Hodge kept sharing the ball while the rest of the team struggled.
Then, when Purdue did get close, he took it upon himself to score.
“He’s a big-time player,” Boilermakers guard Brandon McKnight said. “He might be national player of the year. Whenever they needed a big basket or anything, it seemed like he came through for them.”
The Wolfpack (5-0) won their first four games by an average of 37 points but never could pull away from the Boilermakers (1-3), who are off to their worst start since 1962-63 in coach Gene Keady’s farewell season.
Carl Landry led Purdue with 18 points, and McKnight added 14.
“We’re not going to throw in the towel, I don’t care if we get to 1-13,” McKnight said.
Through four games against mostly undermanned opponents, the Wolfpack shot 58 percent from the field, and only Bennerman (48 percent) made less than half his shots. They were nearly as effective from beyond the 3-point arc, making 47 percent over that span.
Nothing was that easy against Purdue. N.C. State missed its first eight 3s and shot 33 percent in each half, including Hodge’s 8-for-15.
“I think we used up all of our made shots in the first four games,” Wolfpack coach Herb Sendek said. “We didn’t have any left.”
Evtimov made consecutive 3-pointers sandwiched around a layup for Landry, and Hodge added a free throw to give the Wolfpack a 43-35 lead. After a turnover by Purdue, Bennerman added another from long distance to increase the margin to 11.
Later, when a jumper by McKnight cut it to seven, Evtimov drove and drew the defense, then found Bennerman alone on the wing. He swished another 3, and a steal and a dunk minutes later by Tony Bethel made it 53-42 with 5:38 left.
“We had such poor passing when we needed a big basket,” Keady said. “One of our guys (Matt Kiefer) had eight turnovers, and you can’t win like that.”
But the Boilermakers rallied, thanks to a questionable intentional foul called by referee Karl Hess. Kiefer broke free after a steal and was fouled hard—but cleanly, according to replays—by Hodge. He made two free throws and added a 3-pointer about 2 minutes later to cut the lead to 57-51.
McKnight then drove through the defense for an uncontested layup, and Purdue was within four. Bethel later turned it over but the Boilermakers got no closer.
“This was a good experience for our team and a great win,” Sendek said. “There are going to be nights where we are not going to shoot well, but we stayed with it and grinded out a win.
“Often times, the measure of a good team is being able to adjust during the game.”
Having Hodge makes that much easier. A four-year starter in an era when most top stars spend only a year or two in college, he plans to enjoy every second of his senior season.
Perhaps that’s why he was particularly effusive after the game, when he made the comments about Owens. He quickly insisted he was joking.
“I don’t need any controversy,” he said.