Richard Howell hit a go-ahead bucket late, then sank two free throws in the final seconds, the last of his 23 points, as No. 16 North Carolina State escaped with an 82-80 victory over UNC-Asheville at PNC Arena.
Howell added a game-best 15 rebounds and Lorenzo Brown totaled 18 points for the Wolfpack (4-1), who recovered from a four-point loss to Oklahoma State last Sunday.
"First thing I would say is that I learned a long time ago, I like winning a whole lot more than losing," said NC State head coach Mark Gottfried. "We are happy about that. I am certainly not happy with the way we played. I thought the second half we competed really hard. Richard Howell absolutely played his tail off."
Jeremy Atkinson's game-high 28 points weren't enough for the Bulldogs (1-5), losers of five straight since a season-opening win against Western Carolina. Keith Hornsby had 23 points, thanks to 4-of-6 shooting beyond the arc, in the narrow setback.
Howell's layup and free throw finally put NC State back on top by a 71-69 count as the clock ticked down to the three-minute mark in regulation. A Scott Wood make pushed the advantage to four before Trent Meyer's three made it a one-point game.
Wood countered with a triple and Brown added two from the line, then Howell made the second of two free throws for a 79-72 game inside of 30 seconds to play. But Hornsby connected from long distance, then Brown made 1-of-2 at the charity stripe ahead of a three-point play from Hornsby that drew UNCA to 80-78 with 17 seconds left.
Howell followed by sinking his next two foul shots for a four-point edge with five ticks left, and a Sam Hughes layup as time ran out was the Bulldogs' only answer.
"We let this one get away, not because of one play, we just let it get away, admitted UNC-Asheville head coach Eddie Biedenbach. "We missed a couple of layups in the open field. They hurt us. We just let it get away. Not that this should have been an easy win for us or anything, against a pretty good NC State team on the road."
The visitors scored the game's first six points, and led 9-3 with 3 1/2 minutes played.
Howell's dunk later knotted the score at 22-22, but UNCA ripped off a 15-8 run -- as Hornsby and Atkinson hit back-to-back buckets to ignite the spurt -- and went up 37-30 after Atkinson's triple, which was the last of three consecutive baskets.
It was 37-34 for UNCA at the break.
Hornsby's long-range bucket gave the Bulldogs a 55-50 edge with just over seven minutes gone in the second half, and Atkinson's successful shot with 8 1/2 to play made it 64-57 for the visitors.
Howell's lay-in capped a short burst for the hosts which forged a 66-66 deadlock, then Atkinson's hoop and foul shot pushed UNCA back up by three.
NC State will take on Michigan in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Tuesday ... The Wolfpack have won all 18 meetings against their in-state rival ... C.J. Leslie picked up 14 points and 11 boards for the Wolfpack, who also recorded five steals and four blocks as a team.