A little Reynolds magic helps Wolfpack squeak past Tennessee State

Putting on a performance that would have made theCardiac Pack of days gone by proud, NC State rallied from an eight-point second half deficit to pull away in overtime for a 67-55 victory against Tennessee State

RALEIGH — NC State paid homage to its basketball past Sunday in the first men’s game to be played at the newly renovated Reynolds Coliseum. The widow of former coach Norm Sloan was there to celebrate her 90th birthday and a recording of her signing the national anthem was played. Thurl Bailey, a star of the Wolfpack’s 1983 national championship team, was introduced during a timeout and current coach Mark Gottfried even wore a plaid jacket — though nowhere near as loud as the one favored by his distant predecessor Sloan. But of all the tributes that took place in conjunction with the formal unveiling of State’s new old gem, the most appropriate and dramatic came from the players themselves. Putting on a performance that would have made the “Cardiac Pack” of days gone by proud, this Wolfpack team rallied from an eight-point second half deficit to pull away in overtime for a 67-55 victory against Tennessee State. “This was good coming in here and playing in Reynolds,” said senior center BeeJay Anya, who nearly had a triple double while anchoring the Wolfpack on both ends of the floor. “Just being in here, you get that feeling of past teams, Jimmy V and all the good times that happened. It was a great atmosphere.” Gottfried credited that atmosphere, fueled by a capacity crowd of 5,500 that felt as if it was right on top of the newly relocated court, for playing a major role in his team’s comeback and victory. As far as senior guard Terry Henderson is concerned, State may also have gotten a helpful boost from some of the ghosts that still linger in the old building, which first went into service back in 1949. It came on his go-ahead 3-pointer from the left corner that kissed off the glass before going in with 2:57 left in the extra period to give the Wolfpack a 56-55 it would never relinquish. “I think the Reynolds magic guided that bank shot in on the 3-ball from the corner,” he said. “I had no idea that was going in.” Not many of State’s shots found their mark during the regulation portion of the game. The Wolfpack hit on just 15 of its 49 field goal attempts through 40 minutes (30.6 percent) before finally heating up to make five of its eight attempts in the extra period. Henderson and freshman guard Dennis Smith Jr. scored seven each in the extra period to lead the way with 21 and 19 points. But it was Anya and a vastly improved defense that helped State stay afloat until their stars finally began to find the mark. Anya, using his widebody frame to its full advantage on the low post, became the Wolfpack’s go-to guy in the first half as he muscled everyone in his path out of his way to get to the basket. He finished with 12 points, 14 rebounds and seven blocked shots while keying a defensive effort that limited Tennessee State to just 23.3 percent shooting. At one point in the second half, the Wolfpack held the Tigers scoreless for 11 straight possessions over an eight-minute stretch. That allowed it go on an 11-0 run that turned a 38-30 deficit into a 41-38 lead. “I thought we took a major step this week with our defense,” Gottfried said. “We left our offense someplace else, but defensively we got better. That’s something we’ve spent a lot of time on. That was a big step for us in the right direction. I’m not sure we would have won this game two or three weeks ago.” Perhaps not. And yet, it’s exactly the kind of game his Wolfpack (7-2) has already made a habit out of playing and winning. Already this season, State has squeaked out a two-point victory against Loyola of Chicago and outlasted Boston University by three. Both of those teams, like Tennessee State, are veteran units that return multiple starters from teams that were successful a year ago. Though the final scores might not look as impressive as they probably should have against mid-major competition, Gottfried said the experience his team has gotten from playing such opponents will help it in the long run. “I like playing good teams,” Gottfried said. “This is good for us. You still have to win, but you learn a lot more about your team. It forces your team to play better.” The Wolfpack answered the challenge again Saturday, shaking off a missed opportunity to win the game on the final possession of regulation by scoring the game’s final 14 points in overtime. “When overtime hit, we got it up and got it together,” Henderson said. “We knew we had to get it together. I like the toughness in our guys. We all wanted to win. It was a great night, a great game in Reynolds.”