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Hodge Approach Key To Troubled Offense

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff


January 19, 2004 RALEIGH — After his fiasco performance at Duke, N.C. State star Julius Hodge seemed to learn his lesson. The question: Did Wolfpack coach Herb Sendek learn one, too? There was no question that Hodge deserved much of the responsibility for the latest installment of the Pack's annual humiliation in Durham. Starting with his game-opening technical foul for slapping the backboard after a dunk, Hodge tried to force things against Duke senior Chris Duhon, and he was unable to beat Duhon one-on-one. Hodge had as many turnovers as points (seven), and the Wolfpack kept falling further and further behind. Even after he got his third personal foul with three minutes left before halftime, allowing the Cameron Crazies to howl his name in delight, Hodge kept forcing things. With Marcus Melvin occasionally invisible and Scooter Sherrill still mired in a mind-boggling shooting slump, Hodge didn't have much help. But many fans wondered: Was Hodge the game plan all along? The day before the game, Sendek said Duke likes to force playmakers to make plays, because its defense takes away passing lanes and prevents teams from running their offensive systems. It sounded like the coach, who long has favored Hodge in a playmaker's role, wanted his first-team All-ACC player to initiate more one-on-one opportunities against the Blue Devils. Sendek certainly never discouraged Hodge, nor did his chastise his performance after the game. “Julius is a versatile player, a lot like a guy who played here (at Duke), Grant Hill,” Sendek said after the 76-57 loss at Cameron Indoor Stadium. “We use him all over the court. We use him on the wing, we use him on the post. That's what we do. He was trying to make things happen. It didn't go in our favor tonight. That's the nature of the way Julius plays. He does make things happen, night-in and night-out.” Hodge was able to diffuse much of the inevitable post-game criticism by delivering one of the best lines of the season. When asked about being rattled by the Cameron crowd, Hodge said: “I'm not going to let a kid with a 4.5 GPA, acne and bad breath determine how I play on the court.” Duhon, actually, took care of that. With only one day between that performance and the Wolfpack's impressive win over Clemson (86-69), Hodge had just enough time to do some soul-searching without settling into a destructive funk. “Coach didn't have to say a word to us,” Hodge said. “Guys were still feeling upset. It was strictly anger at the last game.” For Hodge, it was mostly anger at himself, for the way he played. That's why he was determined to stay in control against Clemson, enabling him to score a game-high 23 points. “I knew that I played horrible (against Duke),” Hodge said after the Clemson game. “I didn't need no one to tell me that, not my mom, not my brother or Coach Sendek. I know what level I am supposed to play at every night. I didn't do that. I let my teammates down. I was ready to get back on the court, and I really had my mind in the right mindset to get it done.” The challenge now will be keeping that mindset through the rest of the season, and not trying to carry the entire team on his skinny shoulders by forcing plays he can't make. For Hodge to strike the balance that's best for the team, he and Sendek will have to be on the same page. Sendek Trying Different Lineups Sendek made a move to try to shake Sherrill out of his protracted shooting slump, by starting sophomore Cameron Bennerman at shooting guard against Duke and junior Levi Watkins against Clemson. It did seem to help, though it was pretty obvious that Sherrill didn't like being on the bench. In his 16 minutes of action against the Tigers, Sherrill made four of eight shots and nailed an open three-pointer in the corner, a shot he had been missing in recent games. Whether that one shot will get Sherrill back to his old deadly shooting self — he missed his next three-point attempt and was just one-for-two for the game — won't be known until after games at Boston College and against Georgia Tech, at the earliest. But it certainly was a step in the right direction. It was good to see Sendek willing to shake things up a little, with the goal of getting Sherrill's confidence back. The coach has worked with Sherrill to get him to concentrate on other parts of the game — defense, driving to the basket, accepting a different role — in the hope that those things will help get his shot going. Sherrill had eight points against Duke but missed his two three-point attempts. Against Clemson, he scored 11 points off the bench, including the one three-pointer. Unfortunately, Watkins took his starting role to mean he needed to shoot more. He converted just two of nine attempts against the Tigers and missed six straight long-range attempts soon after becoming the ACC's three-point shooting percentage leader. Sendek vowed to continue making lineup changes, instead of having five set starters. Last year, in contrast, Sendek made one starting lineup change all year long. He's already made several this year, putting impressive-looking freshman guard Engin Atsur in for freshman Mike O'Donnell and Bennerman and Watkins in for Sherrill. “It appears right now, with our personnel, we don't have a starting five,” Sendek said. “We have more than five starters. Who starts the game is going to change I think from game to game, maybe. It depends on matchups. It depends on who is playing well. We have several guys who add different things. It's the nature of our team. (Against Clemson) we went with a little bigger starting lineup (with Watkins), and it worked out well for us.”