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ACC: Wolfpack performance clearly not Hodgepodge

Finely tuned N.C. State surprises Wake Forest behind Julius Hodge.

By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 16, 2003


GREENSBORO, N.C. -- If North Carolina State were to enhance its postseason resume on Saturday, coach Herb Sendek knew it would not hinge on his game plan or any inspirational speeches.

"At this time of the year, your best players have to be at their best," he said.

His were.

Sophomore forward Julius Hodge scored a career-high 31 and junior forward Marcus Melvin added 23, with 35 of their total coming in the torrid-shooting second half, as the Wolfpack upset top-seeded Wake Forest 87-83 in the ACC semifinals before an announced 23,745 at the Greensboro Coliseum.

"They were nothing short of sensational," Sendek said.

With the win, the No. 4-seeded Wolfpack (18-11) advanced to the final for the second straight year and, just as important, provided an attention-grabbing performance for the NCAA Tournament selection committee.

Coach Skip Prosser's Demon Deacons (24-5), the regular-season league champs, had won seven straight and climbed to No. 9 in the Associated Press poll. They had a shot at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament had they continued to roll in the first all-North Carolina ACC semifinals in four decades.

But his best player was not at his best.

Senior forward Josh Howard, the league's most dominating player, had a double double, 21 points and 12 rebounds, but was 6-of-21 from the field.

"I just didn't hit the open shots that I had previously," he said. "It happens."

The long-armed and dizzyingly quick Hodge, as well as his swarming teammates, especially senior guard Clifford Crawford, deserve credit for containing Howard.

Yet Hodge and company turned the game around with offense, not defense, at the start of the second half. For the last 12 minutes of the opening half, the Wolfpack managed to make 3 of 15 shots and trailed 37-33.

"We just wanted to run our offense," Hodge said. "We know we're not going to make every shot, but as the game progresses, we want to start making tough shots and in the second half, we did that."

Melvin opened with a 3-pointer, then guard Scooter Sherrill followed with a 3-pointer and moments later, Hodge hit a line-drive 3-pointer from the right corner to give the Wolfpack a 44-39 lead.

The Wolfpack shot 62.5 percent from the field after intermission, including 7-of-8 from beyond the arc. Melvin sealed it by converting 7 of 8 free throws in the final minute.

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