By Bret Strelow
RALEIGH ó Ben McCauley started and finished N.C. State’s game with Wake Forest.
Consider it a win-win scenario for coach Sidney Lowe and the Wolfpack.
McCauley made his third consecutive start Sunday, and his follow dunk as time expired gave N.C. State a 67-65 victory.
“It’s lifted me up a little bit and gives me some confidence for the rest of the season,” McCauley said. “I’m glad Coach Lowe had confidence in me to be in there at the end of the game. Luckily, I pulled it through for them.”
The Wolfpack, which faces Virginia Tech at home tonight, has won three of its last five games to move into a tie for sixth place in the ACC.
N.C. State fell behind 7-0 in the first two minutes of its loss to Georgia Tech on Jan. 23, and McCauley returned to the starting lineup three days later. He played a season-high 34 minutes in a road victory against Florida State, and the Wolfpack led by nine points at halftime of its loss at Duke on Thursday. He scored all 11 of his points in the final 11 minutes against Wake.
Lowe said McCauley has performed well in his new role.
“He’s a high-energy guy, and we weren’t getting off to good starts,” Lowe said. “He’s probably the guy with the most intensity that we have on our team. I thought it was important that we get him in there.”
McCauley, a junior, has played an average of 27.3 minutes when he starts and 19.1 minutes when he doesn’t. He started all 36 games last season, when he averaged 14.4 points and 6.9 rebounds in 34.5 minutes per contest.
The arrival of freshman standout J.J. Hickson led to a lineup change, and McCauley came off the bench in N.C. State’s first two games of this season.
He started over Hickson in the next four games but settled in as a reserve after failing to score in a 23-point loss to Michigan State.
McCauley played only 13 minutes in losses to East Carolina and Georgia Tech ó the first and last outings of a 12-game stretch in which Hickson and fellow forward Brandon Costner started.
“Early on it was a little frustrating, but I had to fight through that,” McCauley said. “I knew good things were to come, and sure enough they did.”
McCauley didn’t exit the floor in the final 71/2 minutes of an overtime victory against Miami, and Lowe’s switch prior to the matchup with Florida State forced Costner to come off the bench for only the second time in the last 55 games.
Lowe trusted McCauley to trigger the final play against Wake. He inbounded the ball to Gavin Grant, ran the length of the court and put himself in position to rebound Grant’s 3-point try.
The shot didn’t descend through the net, but McCauley’s left-handed tip dunk did.
“Those are the kinds of players you enjoy coaching,” Lowe said. “Those are the kinds of players you enjoy being around when you know that they’re dealing with a tough situation, an adjustment period, but he continued to play.
“He’s worked hard, stuck with it, and now he’s rewarded for his effort.”
Contact Bret Strelow at 704-797-4258 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Bret Strelow