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Pack beats Michigan

By Bret Strelow

Salisbury Post

RALEIGH — N.C. State lost point guard Engin Atsur to a hamstring injury six minutes into its 74-67 victory against Michigan on Monday night.

Ben McCauley and Brandon Costner took care of business in the paint. A forward with big-city smarts assumed the role of point guard and accepted help from a former walk-on who grew up in Raleigh cheering for one of the Wolfpack’s rivals.

That combination enabled N.C. State

(5-0) to remain undefeated under first-year coach Sidney Lowe and claim the opener of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think it says that these kids have good character,” Lowe said. “I think it says that they wanted it. I think it says they understand what it means to sacrifice and help each other out. They all had to do it at some point tonight.”

McCauley had 19 points and eight rebounds, and Costner posted his second straight double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds.

Michigan (7-1) led 14-4 when Atsur went to the floor with 14:26 remaining, and he didn’t return. Lowe switched to a zone while shortening his rotation from seven players to six, and little-known guard Bryan Nieman scored a career-high eight points in a career-best 31 minutes.

Gavin Grant made a fairly smooth transition from slasher to ball-handler, and the Wolfpack led by as many as 21 points in the second half. Grant finished with 15 points but committed five of his seven turnovers in the final 41/2 minutes, when the Wolverines trimmed a double-digit deficit to four points.

“I thought the effort was outstanding, especially after losing Engin,” Lowe said. “Gavin stepped into that position, and it’s a very tough position against a tough ball club. Playing as well as he did is a tough thing to do.”

The Wolfpack used a 21-6 run to take a 35-28 halftime lead, and Grant had four of his seven assists during a 20-6 run to begin the second half.

Michigan pulled within nine with 5:41 left but trailed by at least seven until Dion Harris hit a 3-pointer to cut N.C. State’s lead to 70-64 with 37 seconds remaining.

“I bet Michigan was excited when Engin went out,” Grant said. “They figured they’ve got no point guard, and we’ll be able to get up on them. I’ve told you guys I’m from New York City. It’s not a problem handling the ball. I was able to keep it calm.”

The loss of Atsur hurt an already thin squad. All five of N.C. State’s starters average at least 28.8 minutes a game, and four rank among the ACC’s top seven in minutes played.

Nieman, who hit a first-half 3-pointer, made a layup one possession after Harris missed a

3-pointer that could have pulled the Wolverines within four with three minutes remaining.

“I grew up in a Duke household, I’m ashamed to admit,” Nieman said. “Our church, we used to volunteer at Cameron Indoor Stadium. I’d work the concession stand and sell posters.”

Nieman played sparingly as a Winthrop freshman during the 2002-03 season and sat out the next one with a broken foot.

He spent the next year at Gulf Coast Community College in Panama City, Fla., and scored one point last season for the Wolfpack.

“I know the ladies know about him,” Grant said. “I don’t know how many players know about him. He’s kind of our unsung hero, especially tonight.”

*

Contact Bret Strelow at 704-797-4258 or bstrelow@salisburypost.com.

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