My first in-person basketball games came in the upper deck of Madison Square Garden, watching the Knicks. I remember being surprised at how often bigs, like Kareem Abdul Jabbar, didn’t cross half court. Then, when I went to NC State and started to get courtside seats, I was surprised with how physical the games were. Tonight’s game against Wake Forest was very physical on TV, so I imagine it was even more physical if you saw it in person. And the Pack emerged from the slugfest with an 83-76 win, moving their conference record to 5-1, the first time they’ve reached that mark since Jim Valvano was their coach.

How physical was this game? Ben Middlebrooks went in for a laytup, there was a bunch of body contact, with the defensive player hitting Middlebrooks on the arm as he shot. No foul called. Coach Kevin Keatts couldn’t believe his eyes. As Wake brought the ball up, Keatts stormed on the court, prompting the officials to give him a technical foul. The official tried to restore order and gave Keatts plenty of rope. But State’s coach continued to press the issue and ended up with a second technical and an ejection.

The Demon Deacons got four free throws with the technicals and hit all four shots.

Wake extended to a 12-point lead and took a 45-35 lead into halftime. State was hampered by a dismal 5-11 from the charity stripe and they didn’t hit a 3-point shot in the opening 20 minutes. There was definitely room for improvement but it was an open question if they could accomplish that with their coach ejected and the game being anything but typical in pace or clean style of play.

But State played with a bigger lineup for most of the second half and were able to play tough defense and grab a bunch of rebounds. They slowly got back in the game and tied things up with 2:41 remaining when Middlebrooks hit two free throws to make t 69-69.

Casey Morsell hit two from the line at 2:16 to give the Pack their first lead of the game. Then Jayden Taylor dove on the floor for a steal and was able to call timeout. DJ Horne followed with a jumper and the Pack never trailed the rest of the way.

But that doesn’t mean the game was without drama. DJ Burns, who had been on the bench for awhile in the second half, was shown leaving the floor, with an assistant following him hauling a garbage can, one that Burns seemingly threw up in earlier. Burns did not play the rest of the way.

Middlebrooks scored on a power move and got a foul called for a three-point opportunity. Middlebrooks celebrated and bumped into a Wake Forest player. And then all hell broke loose. In all, four technical fouls were called, including one on Middlebrooks, which ended up being his fifth foul. Mo Diarra, who played great defensively, was ejected for headbutting a Wake player. So, with Burns sick and Diarra and Middlebrooks ejected, State had to play 6’6 Dennis Parker Jr. at center to finish the game.

The silver lining was that State was able to insert Michael O’Connell to take the free throw that Middlebrooks was supposed to take and he calmly came in and converted. O’Connell added three more free throws in the final minute to help seal the deal. After struggling so much at the line in the first half, the Pack ended up 20-22 from the charity stripe after halftime.

Maybe the plan was to play Diarra more in the second half. Maybe it was something that acting coach Kareem Richardson decided to do. Either way, it was good to see two bigs in the game. The trio of Burns, Diarra and Middlebrook combined for 32 points and 21 rebounds, key figures on a night where the guards could not hit a shot from deep. Their output allowed the Wolfpack to enjoy a 50-30 lead in points in the paint.

State averages eight 3-point baskets per game but went 0-8 in this contest.

In the game against UNC, State went 2-16 from deep and the announcers tripped all over themselves to talk about how good the other team played defense. Tuesday’s night was just as bad and nothing was said at all, other than they didn’t hit a shot. It was frustrating to watch but at least we didn’t have to hear about how great the opponent was defensively. Sometimes the shots just don’t go in.

While the frontcourt deserves credit for how well it played in this game, guard DJ Horne led the Pack with 21 points and a +17. Middlebrooks had a +15.

This game gives State a Quad 2 win, as Wake has a No. 46 ranking in the NET after the contest. The win makes the Pack 13-4 overall and a combined 3-4 in Quad 1 & Quad 2 games, and moves them into second place in the conference. State moves up to No. 73 in the NET. Next up for the Wolfpack is a noon game at home on Saturday versus Va. Tech.

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