Atsur, McCauley help weary NC State hold off Drexel

PHILADELPHIA -- With Sidney Lowe's snazzy red jacket left behind, North Carolina State showed it could win without the coach's good-luck threads -- or even a good night's sleep.

Engin Atsur scored 18 points, and Ben McCauley had 16 points and 12 rebounds to lead weary NC State to a 63-56 win over Drexel on Tuesday night in the first round of the NIT.

Brandon Costner's three-point play late in the game sealed the win for the Wolfpack (19-15), who advanced to play Marist.

The 10th-seeded Wolfpack knocked off three higher seeds in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament before losing to North Carolina in the championship game Sunday. Four exhilarating games in four days and their reward was a plane trip to Philadelphia.

No wonder the Wolfpack were fatigued early.

"It was expected," said Lowe, who wore a standard pinstriped suit. "After the four straight games we played, we knew [Drexel] would come out with a lot of energy and they did. The guys did a good job keeping their composure."

Lowe wore the stop-sign red blazer throughout the Wolfpack's improbable run in the ACC tourney, but they didn't need it in this one -- not with the Dragons (23-9) miserable shooting from the foul line down the stretch.

Frank Elegar scored 24 points on 10-for-12 shooting but that was overshadowed by a string of crucial misses from the line in the second half. Elegar missed eight of 12 overall, including two that could have put the Dragons ahead with 2:30 left.

Instead, McCauley sank a free throw that made it 54-54 and Costner followed with his baseline layup and the free throw, and the Wolfpack's late-season surge continued.

Costner, who averaged 17.1 points, was limited after he sprained an ankle in the ACC final and was held to only nine points.

"It was bothering me," he said. "I just wanted to come out and play as well as I could."

Dominick Mejia added 11 points for the Dragons, still angered over being snubbed by the NCAA Tournament selection committee.

The Dragons were left out of the NCAAs even though they had 13 road wins and the most overall victories in coach Bruiser Flint's six seasons. While the Dragons did what they needed to do on the road and in nonconference games, they failed to take care of business against the best of the Colonial Athletic Association, which ultimately cost them a spot in the NCAA field.

Drexel was only 1-5 against the top three teams in the conference and lost in the tourney semifinals. The Dragons also lost both games against Old Dominion, which received the one CAA at-large bid.

"It's tough the way it ended," Flint said. "I feel sorry for my guys. It was a tough two or three days."

The students in the "DAC Pack" were fired up and brought all sorts of signs that took shots at the NCAA snub. The Dragons fed off the frenzied atmosphere for awhile, and raced to an early 11-point lead.

But Atsur's driving layup early in the second half tied the score for the first time and McCauley's layup gave the Wolfpack their first lead, 36-35.

When Courtney Fells sank a 3 to push the lead to 41-35 early in the half, he capped a 12-1 run that had the Wolfpack feeling like they were back in Tampa, Fla.

The Dragons weren't finished. Mejia hit a 3 and Bashir Mason scored off a turnover to help Drexel regain the lead, 42-41.

The Dragons were 7-for-16 from the line while NC State was 12 of 20.

"If we make the foul shots, I think we've got the game," Flint said.

While the students were certainly upset over being left out of the NCAAs, it sure didn't douse their enthusiasm inside the cozy and steamy 2,700-seat Daskalakis Athletic Center. The DAC was rocking from the moment the fans were let in.

Mejia pump-faked at the 3-point line, and went underneath the basket for a reverse layup that made it 10-1 and the earsplitting cheers did little to soothe the Wolfpack going into a timeout.

"It was like a high school gym," Atsur said. "It took awhile for us to get started."

Chaz Crawford swiped the ball at midcourt and finished with a layup for a 15-4 lead. But after making seven of their first nine shots, Drexel cooled and missed 15 of 20. The Wolfpack snapped out of their early funk and Fells hit a pair of 3s to help them pull to 28-26 at halftime.