Hungry like the Wolfpack: NC State dumps Miami

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Determined to finish his college career in style, Cameron Bennerman has found inspiration from perhaps the best player ever -- Michael Jordan.

"I've been reading a lot of books about focus, and I've really been reading these Michael Jordan books," Bennerman said. "He always focused on the moment. It was incredible. I've really been conscious of that, just my focus."

He certainly put the advice to good use Sunday night.

Bennerman had a season-high 19 points on only six shots and almost single-handedly turned the game around early in the second half, helping North Carolina State (No. 19 ESPN/USA Today, No. 21 AP) hold off Miami 81-69 in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener for both.

Tony Bethel scored 12 of his 15 points on four 3-pointers in the opening seven minutes for the Wolfpack (8-1), and teammate Ilian Evtimov had all 11 of his points after halftime. Cedric Simmons controlled the paint, too, finishing with eight points, nine rebounds and seven blocks.

"If it wasn't for us winning the loose ball battle, we wouldn't have won the game," Bennerman said. "I think everybody was responsible to make those type of plays, and that all goes back to focusing on playing hard and not worrying about anything else."

N.C. State got a measure of revenge for a loss to the Hurricanes (6-4) early last season, the beginning of a rough start for the Wolfpack. They eventually fell to 2-4 in the conference before rallying to make the NCAA Tournament for the fourth consecutive
season, and avoiding a similar hole early was particularly important.

Guillermo Diaz had 19 points for Miami, and Anthony King added a career-high 17.

"I thought for the most part that we played a hard-fought game," Hurricanes coach Frank Haith said. "There was about a four-minute stretch there where they separated themselves. Give them credit, they made plays to win the game."

Many of those came from Bennerman, a senior who has struggled at times to fit in with N.C. State. He sat out the opener for an unspecified violation of team rules and didn't crack the starting lineup until the seventh game.

And he didn't start out particularly well against the Hurricanes, since he was called for a technical foul midway through first half for grabbing the rim on an unsuccessful putback. But with the Wolfpack clinging to a three-point lead early in the second half, Bennerman took over.

"He's a senior, he deserves everything he gets," Simmons said. "His energy and his hustle really helped everybody get into the flow of the game."

Bennerman chased down a rebound that was headed into the seats and saved it with a behind-the-back pass to Simmons, who fed Evtimov in the paint. The ensuing shot was off, but Bennerman was there to put back the miss.

He later added two free throws and a 3-pointer before jumping in the passing lane for a steal. As Bennerman leaped for what was going to be a double-clutch dunk, Miami guard Anthony Harris shoved him, causing the ball to bounce off the rim and drawing a foul on

It wasn't called an intentional one, however, which incensed N.C. State coach Herb Sendek. Bennerman walked gingerly to the line and made both free throws, and Sendek dramatically urged the crowd to make some noise.

"I think Cam is off to a really good start this year, and I think tonight was as well as he's played," Sendek said. "He was consistent on both ends of the floor. We really need him to be at his best, because he is so talented and he does make a great difference for our team."

Yet the Hurricanes rallied. Six straight points got them within two before Bennerman led another charge. Following a 3 by Evtimov, Bennerman led a break that concluded with Andrew Brackman getting fouled and converting both free throws for a 60-52 lead.

Then Bennerman came around a screen by Evtimov to swish a 3-pointer, and the Wolfpack had an 11-point lead, tying their largest of the game. Miami never recovered.

"I'm ready to take on the challenge, this is my last go-around," Bennerman said. "I've definitely waited my turn to be in this position, paid my dues, so I'm just really enjoying right now."

On defense, Bennerman was equally effective, helping hold Diaz to 6-of-15 shooting, including 2-of-7 on 3-pointers. Robert White, the Hurricanes' second-leading scorer, was held to 13 points -- about two below his average -- after fighting early foul trouble.

"We were on the road in the ACC, so nobody was going to do us any favors," King said. "Anything can happen on any given night."