RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Brandon Costner scored 18 points, including three 3-pointers in an early second-half flurry, to help North Carolina State beat North Carolina Central 54-29 on Wednesday night.
J.J. Hickson added 13 points and eight rebounds as the Wolfpack (11-3) closed the nonconference schedule with a relatively easy win against a first-year Division I opponent. Still, N.C. State struggled to knock down its outside shot and lost starter Courtney Fells to a sprained right ankle late in the first half. It's unclear whether the junior guard will be able to play in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener at top-ranked North Carolina on Saturday.Charles Futrell scored eight points to lead the Eagles (1-21), who shot just 20 percent to lose their 16th straight game. N.C. Central, located in nearby Durham, played in its 19th road game of the season.N.C. State has won seven straight games since a stunning loss at East Carolina on Dec. 8, giving the Wolfpack some momentum heading into Saturday's trip to Chapel Hill. But the Wolfpack didn't look particularly sharp against an opponent who trailed just 27-18 at halftime despite shooting 8-for-36 (22 percent).N.C. State missed all 10 of its 3-point tries in the opening half before Costner, a 6-foot-9 sophomore, knocked down a quick 3 off a pass from Gavin Grant about a minute after the break.Costner followed with another 3 a few possessions later and his third long-distance basket made it 39-22 with 14:31 left, a comfortable lead that the Wolfpack maintained despite a sluggish overall performance. But on a night when there were few highlights, Costner's performance offered a glimpse of hope that he might be able to shake out of his season-long offensive struggles.Costner averaged 16.8 points per game last year while shooting 47 percent from the floor and 38 percent from 3-point range. But the ACC all-freshman pick hasn't found that same touch this season, averaging 10.4 points while shooting 39 percent from the floor and 32 percent from behind the arc coming into Wednesday's game.N.C. State shot just 36 percent and 4-for-21 from 3-point range for the game. The Wolfpack also played a second straight contest without key reserve Dennis Horner, who suffered a high ankle sprain during practice on Jan. 3.N.C. Central made just 12 of 59 shots, including 1-for-14 from 3-point range.