Richard Howell rises to the challenge in N.C. States 87-81 win over Campbell
  • Neil Morris
  • Richard Howell rises to the challenge in N.C. State’s 87-81 win over Campbell

REYNOLDS COLISEUM/RALEIGH — With visions of N.C. State’s 55-point thrashing of Campbell University seven years ago — the last meeting between the schools — seemingly still dancing in their heads, the Wolfpack expected a cakewalk over the visiting Camels to close out the third and final game at historic Reynolds Coliseum this season. Instead, the boys from Buies Creek came bound to prove that these dromedaries are no doormat. Buoying the visitors was a boisterous band of orange-clad supporters whose presence was both seen and heard amongst the 7,734 in attendance at the venerable bandbox, fostering an electric atmosphere reminiscent of the bygone days of the Dixie Classic.

On this night, the game was every bit as close as N.C. State’s 87-81 margin of victory over Campbell suggested, a contest that saw 15 ties and 12 lead changes. The Wolfpack (9-4) were paced by a career-high 24 points from Lorenzo Brown, who also added eight rebounds and eight assists. N.C. State also dominated the interior, outscoring Campbell 46-24 in the paint and out-rebounding them 40-22, highlighted by a 17-point, 17-rebound night from Richard Howell.

However, even in defeat, the feisty Camels (8-6) were the big story. After winning eight of their first nine games this season, Campbell came to Reynolds having lost four straight. However, all four losses were road affairs that required the Camels to trek from Houston, Texas to Blacksburg, Va. to Wilmington, N.C. to Boone, N.C. over just nine days. However, Campbell came into the N.C. State match ready and rested, having not played in a week.

The preparation showed, as the Camels stood toe-to-toe with the Wolfpack from tipoff. Campbell entered the contest ranked fourth nationally in field goal percentage (.516) and 25th in points per game (79.3). Campbell’s scoring skill was in full bloom Thursday night, working in concert with a tenacity and occasional chestiness that clearly caught N.C. State off-guard and sometimes seemed to get under their skin.

Campbell would amass a five-point lead, its largest of the game, at the 12:28 mark of the first half. Still, neither team seemed able to gain an advantage over the other as they entered halftime tied 41-41, with Campbell paced by 11 points from freshman point guard Trey Freeman and 10 from forward Eric Griffin.

The second stanza brought more of the same. With Campbell’s leading scorer Darren White netting 18 of his game-high 25 points after halftime, the matchup remained tied with 12 minutes left and N.C. State led by only three with nine minutes to go. That’s when Brown took over, scoring 11 points to close out the game.

“I thought Lorenzo was sensational tonight,” said N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried. “He penetrated, he got to the rim, and he controlled tempo.”

“I’ve always told him he was meant to play point guard,” said Scott Wood about his teammate. ”He knows when to look to score and he knows when to get teammates open. He’s doing a great job.”

Over the course of shooting 50 percent from the field, Campbell also made nine of 14 attempts from three-point range. When asked what about Campbell’s performance most surprised him, Brown instantly replied, “Hitting the three-pointer…I didn’t think they could shoot a three like that.”

“In the scouting report, it seemed like their guards got to the basket a lot and really didn’t shoot the three much,” added guard Alex Johnson. “But they shot the ball really well tonight.”

On the other hand, N.C. State took full advantage of frequent trips to the charity stripe, converting 28 of 31 free throws during a game that saw the referees whistle 41 personal fouls and three technicals, including one against Campbell head coach Robbie Laing midway through the second half. Even though Campbell only committed five more fouls than N.C. State, the Wolfpack made 11 more free throws than the Camels attempted.

“I thought we played really poor free throw defense,” said Laing, his tongue defiantly in cheek. “What were they, 28 for 31? That’s a lot to overcome.”

“You watch a football or basketball game and we want the referees to be perfect,” Gottfried said diplomatically. “I’m not saying they made every call right, but I thought they controlled a game that was heated. You had two teams that really battled hard and I thought they did a really good job.”

Even after the Wolfpack built a 14-point advantage with just over five minutes remaining and had seemingly put the Camels away, Campbell kept fighting and chipped the deficit down to the final six-point margin.

“I think that’s a team that’s going to win a lot of games,” gushed Gottfried about the Camels. “They’re very good offensively. At times we weren’t very good defensively, but at times we were good on defense and still couldn’t stop them.”

“They played their hearts out,” said Brown. “They made some tough shots, and I take my hat off to them.”

N.C. State returns to the RBC Center this Saturday to face Western Carolina. Tipoff is 2 p.m.