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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Fells, Mays down Miami in OT, 84-81

State's key to victory here on out? Overtime. Every single damn game.

Sidney Lowe's 5-0 in OT as the Wolfpack's head coach thusfar, and notched another victory in his overtime belt with an 84-81 win on a Julius Mays three with 2.6 seconds remaining. Mays had just entered the game for Farnold Degand, who'd fouled out moments before on a violation against Miami's Jack McClinton that led to a tie ballgame at 81-81.

But entering the game cold was no matter for Mays. When the designed play coming out of the timeout broke down, Mays stepped back a foot from the top of the arc and drained the big shot to give the Pack the win.


As clutch as Mays was, however, he can't overshadow a tremendous performance by senior Courtney Fells. He set a new career high in points with 24, hitting 6-9 shots from beyond the arc--four in the first half and a huge one in overtime.

It was yet another chapter in the sometimes maddening saga of Fells, an incredibly gifted athlete and shooter who can run anywhere from cold and invisible to white hot.

But perhaps more key than Courtney's offense in the first half and in overtime was his defensive play against McClinton. Miami's top-threat scored 27 points but was held without a basket over the final 1:23 of regulation and the entirety of overtime. McClinton's three free throws at the end of overtime were his only points during that stretch. Fells expended a ton of energy trying to stay in front of McClinton, but his strong play defensively seemed to fuel his offensive production.

Good thing for the Pack, because they needed all 24 of his points to simply stay in the game. State played extremely well in the first half and at the open of the second frame, building a 19-point lead at one point in the second half. But Miami kept coming and State began floundering, and State would relinquish all 19 of those points and then some. At the 6:53 mark, Miami led 56-53 after a 12-minute, 31-9 run.

But Brandon Costner hit a huge three with 6:30 to go to stop the bleeding for good, tying the game at 56. He'd tie the game again at 70 to send the game to overtime.

Miami out-rebounded the Pack by 15, but State took care of the basketball again for the second-straight game, again only losing 10 possessions to turnovers. This is a good sign. Far too many times this year the Pack has been sunk by lazy passing and a lack of focus on offense. By protecting the ball they were able to capitalize on their trips down the court, and with some hot shooting (53.3% from the floor and 58.3% from three), the Pack kept a good but struggling Miami team at bay despite the big second-half drought.

Up next: The Tar Heels. The task ahead gets tougher by several factors, but a win at home to hold serve certainly can't hurt.

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