BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP)—Finally playing at full strength with their senior point guard back running the show, North Carolina State showed that they aren’t necessarily a cellar-dwelling team like the Atlantic Coast Conference standings suggest.
Gavin Grant scored all 16 of his points in the second half Wednesday night, Ben McCauley scored 20 points on 10-for-14 shooting and point guard Engin Atsur had 14 points to lead the Wolfpack to a 70-59 victory against No. 16 Virginia Tech.
“It’s big because it’s on the road against a ranked team,” Atsur said after making just one turnover in 35 minutes. It was just his third game in the last 15 after struggling to overcome a hamstring injury. “It was very big for our confidence.
“Today is a day when our guys grew up,” he said.
The Wolfpack (12-8, 2-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) knocked the surprising Hokies out of first place in the conference by taking it to them from the start. The loss was the first in 11 home games for Virginia Tech. N.C. State is now 2-7 on the road.
Having Atsur back and in charge made all the difference, Grant said.
“We have one point guard. That’s our point guard,” Grant said after also grabbing 10 rebounds. “We should be a lot more confident out there and free-flowing on offense.”
They looked both, shooting 53 percent and outrebounding the Hokies 42-29.
Virginia Tech (16-6, 6-2) lost for just the third time in 15 games overall.
“We were out-coached, we were out-played, we were out-competed, we were out-focused, we were out-toughed,” Hokies coach Seth Greenberg said. “I can’t really say one thing that I thought we did a good job with. … I’m really embarrassed by the manner in which we played and the manner in which we conducted our business.”
The Hokies were led by Zabian Dowdell with 16 points. Jamon Gordon and Deron Washington added 12 each, but Gordon missed 10 of 14 shots. Tech shot 35 percent.
“We had no rhythm on offense,” Dowdell said. “Guys were out there just wandering around with no purpose. Any time that happens, you’re not going to score baskets.”
Playing from behind almost all night, the Hokies used a 9-2 run to get within 55-53 with 4:38 left, Gordon scoring inside off a feed from Dowdell to bring thunderous cheers as the crowd implored Virginia Tech to finally take charge of the game.
But just as quickly, Brandon Costner made a 3-pointer from the top of the key, eliciting groans from the crowd, Dowdell was stuffed and Grant made two free throws.
That made it 62-53 with 2:43 left, and the Hokies never recovered.
“When he came down and hit that three, you could hear the crowd kind of quiet down a bit and we got momentum,” Wolfpack coach Sidney Lowe said. “That was big.”
The Hokies pulled even for the first time on Gordon’s 8-footer 27 seconds into the second half, then took their first lead at 36-35 on Washington’s 15-footer with 16:41 to play. But the Wolfpack quickly ran off seven straight points to lead again.
Grant, who scored his first basket with 15:57 left, followed the burst with one of his own, scoring the next nine points for N.C. State. When he finished his run by making the second of two free throws, it was 51-44 with 8:31 remaining.
Virginia Tech trailed 30-28 at halftime after Dowdell’s four-point play with 4.3 seconds left, and the Hokies had to feel fortunate the Wolfpack was the opponent.
Hokies center Coleman Collins was 0-for-5 from the field, and the total distance of his shots couldn’t have been more than 15 feet. Several other Hokies also missed from in close, and they shot just 32 percent in the half to 50 percent for N.C. State.
McCauley was dominant inside, going 6-for-8 for 12 points in the half.