Blend of seniors, youngsters has N.C. State back in mix

ACC notebook

At 16-5, Wolfpack seeks first NCAA tournament appearance since 1991

February 01, 2002|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Herb Sendek said he is too busy trying to win the next game to contemplate the revival unfolding at North Carolina State.

The Wolfpack has not been to the NCAA tournament since 1991, and Sendek entered his sixth season in Raleigh as a head coach on the hot seat. His shaky job security was one reason why highly recruited point guard John Gilchrist spurned N.C. State and signed with Maryland, even though Gilchrist will have to compete with Steve Blake - who will be a senior - in College Park next season.

But even after Wednesday's 82-81 home loss to Wake Forest, which dropped the Wolfpack (16-5, 5-3) into a third-place tie with Wake (15-6, 5-3) in the Atlantic Coast Conference standings, N.C. State is still enjoying a remarkable turnaround.

The Wolfpack, which has had only two 20-victory seasons since 1989, has surpassed the victory total of last season's 13-16 squad, which won five games in the ACC. With a .500 finish in the ACC, N.C. State would stand a good chance of making the NCAAs.

"It's hard to say it's a surprise," said Sendek, who is riding the play of a strong freshman class. "The difference between teams [in the league] is so marginal. There's still so much of the story to be written. I think people really appreciate this team. People will always apply pressure from the outside. I'm not taking time to pick my head up out of the sand. That's where my mind is and where it should be."

Sendek's team, which has won at Syracuse and Virginia, has blown out Temple at home and won two other games on last-second shots, is doing it with a senior backcourt and a bunch of kids.

Seniors Anthony Grundy and Archie Miller are the team's backbone. Grundy might be the league's most underrated player. He leads N.C. State in scoring (16 ppg) and assists (3.7), and is tied for the team lead in rebounding (5.4). He and Miller have combined to produce 107 assists and only 65 turnovers.

Grundy leads a deep squad that features five players averaging at least nine points per game and eight players averaging at least 11 minutes per game. Five different players have led the team in scoring.

The frontcourt of freshman forwards Julius Hodge and Josh Powell and sophomore Marcus Melvin have combined to started 57 of 63 games and have matured quickly, combining to average 29.5 points and 15.2 rebounds. They battled Maryland gamely on the boards in a 72-65 loss Dec. 30.

That day, Terps coach Gary Williams said Maryland's victory would look more impressive as the season went on, and Williams was right.

"N.C. State is a young team, but they have a very veteran backcourt," Williams said. "I really like Grundy. He demands that the players perform a certain way."

The schedule will demand much more of the Wolfpack, which faces five ACC road games, including three of its next four, beginning with a visit to Maryland on Sunday. N.C. State also plays at Duke on Feb. 14.

Clemson up and down

The Clemson Tigers thought they could be another N.C. State this year - a successful team depending heavily on youngsters like sophomore guard Tony Stockman, sophomore forward Chris Hobbs and freshmen like backup forwards Sharrod Ford and Olu Babalola.

It hasn't worked out that way. The Tigers (11-10, 2-6) have been wildly inconsistent. For starters, they have beaten Virginia and lost to Yale - at home.

Remember the team that walked into Cole Field House 12 days ago, dropped 11 three-pointers on Maryland in the first half and made the Terps work hard for a 99-90 victory? The other Clemson showed up and embarrassed itself in Sunday's 87-69 loss to North Carolina, which is fielding its worst team in several decades.

What's more, Tigers coach Larry Shyatt, whose job might not be safe after the season, is downplaying concerns about team harmony. Team captain and junior point guard Ed Scott told The State [newspaper] that Clemson's problems were a "joke" to some players.

Said Shyatt: "We're not experiencing problems. What we had was fits of depression or fits of frustration because we happened to have lost. It's no more symptomatic than any other group or any other family in some tough times."

Ga. Tech breaks through

Before his team's most recent game against Florida State, Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt sounded like the model of calm, although his patience was wearing thin with the Yellow Jackets' winless ways against the league.

The Yellow Jackets, who play eight freshmen and sophomores, were on the short end of a series of close calls en route to an 0-7 start in the ACC.

"They're upbeat, vocal. But I don't want to test this thing much further. I'm not interested in how much more resolve they have," Hewitt said. "I don't want to have to answer this question after we've lost 11 or 12 [in a row]. We've got to close games with a lot more confidence and a lot more authority."

Hewitt finally got his wish on Wednesday night, when Georgia Tech completed its first trip through the ACC by blowing out visiting Florida State, 77-46.

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