RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Try picking out the highlight of Julius Hodge's latest virtuoso performance.
Was it the move around a defender for a fast break dunk? Could it have been his assists on three consecutive baskets in the final minute of the first half, including a 30-foot pass that led to another slam? What about his six offensive rebounds?Either way, the result was boringly predictable -- another easy victory for North Carolina State, thanks mostly to Hodge."I was still trying to play the game right," he said. "I wanted to win by as much as possible."Hodge had 27 points and finished an assist and a rebound short of the second triple-double of his career, leading the Wolfpack (No. 10 ESPN/USA Today, No. 12 AP) past Liberty 94-60 on Saturday.He scored in double figures for the 23rd straight game to go with nine rebounds and nine assists. Freshman Andrew Brackman had a season-high 13 points for the Wolfpack (7-0), who matched their
best start under ninth-year coach Herb Sendek.Two years ago, Hodge had the first triple-double in school history in a victory over North Carolina A&T. Like that game, this one was played on campus at historic Reynolds Coliseum, about five miles away from N.C. State's new home, the RBC Center.The Wolfpack improved to 3-0 in what has been dubbed the "Heritage Game.""We had a great crowd out there," Sendek said. "I had chill bumps from it. The noise level was terrific. Our players responded to the energy of the crowd by being excited."The Flames (1-5) have only beaten Division III Shenandoah this season, and that victory came in overtime. Larry Blair scored 22 points and was the only player in double figures for Liberty, which shot only 40 percent and made 14 turnovers."I am not discouraged and the team is not discouraged," Flames coach Randy Dunton said. "We are a young team and these are our growing years. The sun always shines tomorrow."Down the stretch, the only real drama was whether Hodge would reach his triple-double. He got his ninth assist with about 7½ minutes left, feeding Brackman for a layup, and added his ninth rebound a bit later.Hodge had a chance to add to his totals, but Cameron Bennerman missed an open 3-pointer after a pass from Hodge and Brackman stole
a defensive rebound. With five minutes remaining, Hodge left for good to a standing ovation."The crowd was informing me about it," he said, when asked if he knew how close he was. "It's all right. We got the win."Liberty, which made the NCAA Tournament for the second time last season, led once in the first half and was still within 30-24 with about five minutes left before halftime. Carried by Hodge, the Wolfpack closed with a 22-7 run to take control.He made a free throw and a jumper before feeding Levi Watkins for an open 3. After the Flames missed a couple chances in close, Hodge drove to the rim on a fast break, with only Evan Risher to beat.Hodge used a nifty crossover dribble to get past Risher and rose high for a dunk, giving N.C. State a 40-26 lead and forcing a Liberty timeout. Then he assisted on three baskets, including a layup and a slam by freshman Cedric Simmons."He was brilliant," Sendek said of Hodge. "He really took over -- dominated. All of our players benefit from Julius' playing."But Hodge saved his best for last, finding Gavin Grant alone in the waning seconds for another jam, and the Wolfpack led by 21 at the break. An 8-2 run to start the final 20 minutes sealed it."He's a great player, there's no doubt about it," Blair said. "I was just trying to learn all I could from him. He's not an All-American for nothing."