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January 28, 2009

NCSU men's team inspired by Yow

Kay Yow has been the face of NC State women's basketball and an ambassador for the University.

Yow died last Saturday after her long-time battle with breast cancer at age 66. Her legacy will live on in the women's program and also has touched several members of the men's team.

NC State's men's team had to play within hours of hearing the news of Yow's passing at Boston College on Jan. 24, and then observed an outpouring of cheers, emotion and some tears prior to playing Miami on Tuesday at the RBC Center.

NC State played perhaps its most complete 40 minutes of action to pull out an 84-81 victory in overtime against Miami, with freshman guard Julius Mays draining a pull-up three-pointer with 2.6 seconds left in the game.

Several of the players took time following the game to say what Yow meant to them and to NC State.

"The pregame, that was very emotional," senior center Ben McCauley said. "It's such a sad thing but I think she was looking down on us today, and she's smiling now. We are really happy that the women's team was there today and that we got a win for them."

Mays was raised by his mother and has four older sisters, one of which plays basketball at Toledo. He was proud to come through in such an important moment in the game.

"It was real special because all our prayers go out to the women's team," Mays said. "It was a big loss with Coach Yow and to NC State, and each of the basketball programs. It was in our heads that we wanted to do this for the women's team and Coach Yow."

NC State had a few plays where they got a lucky bounce or break. The players didn't want to call it divine help, but knew something was in the air.

Dennis Horner drilled a difficult jumper early in the game with the shot clock winding down. McCauley received a great pass from Brandon Costner and had his shot roll in as part of a potential three-point play (he ended up missing the free throw).

The biggest "lucky" play was perhaps when Trevor Ferguson banked in a three-point shot to give NC State a 51-43 lead in the second half. Ferguson is a pretty good shooter, but usually doesn't use the backboard.

The players said they could feel Yow's presence at the RBC Center, whether it was with the pregame tribute, wearing little circular patches by their upper right area of their chests with "Yow" spelled out in pink, or feeling the emotion from the fans.

"It's a sad time here at NC State, but anything we can do to help or get a win, makes it so much better," McCauley said. "I know some of the women's players, and I'm not sure what they are doing with ceremonies and what-not. I'll be sure to keep in touch with some of them."

Senior wing Courtney Fells said he's been like a big brother to some of the women's players over the years.

"We are close with them a lot and I'm just about cool with every last one of them," Fells said. "They all live at the same place, the College Inn, and I used to live there. They text us and call us."

Costner said the men's team didn't have any added motivation to play for Yow, but said the coach was a great friend to all at NC State.

"She was a great person and a real great friend to meet," Costner said. "It's a sad loss for our University. We are just trying to move and keep focus on the task at hand."

The NC State players and coaches heard the news of Yow's passing last Saturday prior to facing Boston College at 2 p.m.

"It's tough to go into the game serious when you have such devastating news," McCauley said. "You have to be ready to play, that is way it goes sometimes. Bad things happen and unfortunate things happen, and you have to be ready to turn it around. We did at times against BC, but she was definitely on our minds."

Sometimes lost in watching the men's team is that they are students at NC State too and feel the emotions that have washed the campus over, whether walking around and seeing someone wearing a pink NC State shirt or hearing it in their classes. But the show must go on. The women's team hosts Boston College on Thursday at Reynolds Coliseum.

"We have to sometimes take a step back and realize we are part of this institution, and she's a great part of the institution," McCauley said. "It hits us kind of hard here. Play must go on and anything we can do to help our fans mourn better, we are here to do it. We think we did that tonight [with the win over Miami]."

The NCSU basketball family has had a challenging year off the court, but hope to be able to unite everyone with quality effort on the court.

"It's been a lot for the Wolfpack family and we are just trying to stay strong and keep everybody positive," Fells said. "We just want to dedicate ourselves to a terrific woman that we just lost. We just want to go out there and give our hardest and our all because you never know what might happen."


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