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Fayetteville 120, Austin 110

Patriots Rally to Top Toros

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C., March 12 -- The Fayetteville Patriots spotted the Austin Toros an 11-point first-quarter lead before turning the tables and rolling to a 120-110 win Sunday night.

The victory came despite a stellar 33-point performance by former N.C. State star Julius Hodge, on assignment in Austin from the NBA's Denver Nuggets.

Fayetteville is 5-1 in the month of March, 11-25 overall, and is unbeaten at home over that stretch. Austin has lost five straight and drops to 20-17 overall.

"The NBA game is a game of spurts and your success depends on how you're able to sustain those runs," said Patriots head coach Mike Brown. "We kept our poise when they jumped out on us, we were able to execute and we just chipped away at the lead."

The Toros methodically built the advantage starting at the opening tip, when Jamar Smith slapped the ball to Derrick Zimmerman, who immediately found Smith for a layup. Smith added four more baskets and Hodge netted eight points to put Austin up, 28-17, with less than two minutes remaining.

But Fayetteville answered with a quick jolt that included three consecutive layups by Ryan Randle, Erik Daniels and Alex Acker, and the lead was four at the buzzer.

The Patriots then seized control of the game midway through the second when Acker nailed a long three-pointer that started a 13-2 spurt, turning a six-point deficit into a five-point lead. The Patriots never trailed from that point on.

Point guard Mateen Cleaves missed the game with a slight ankle sprain. Acker, on assignment from the Detroit Pistons, played point guard for three seasons at Pepperdine before entering the NBA Draft last year. He ran the offense in Cleaves' absence.

"He did a good job keeping things going," Brown said. "It's really helping us having a lot of experience at the point."

Acker and Daniels scored 23 apiece, while Acker's Pistons teammate Amir Johnson added 21.

"I like that kid, Acker," said Toros coach Dennis Johnson, the Boston Celtics great who played at Pepperdine in the early seventies. "I've followed his career for a while, watched him a lot on TV. He's silky smooth and he plays with a lot of confidence."

Hodge led all scorers, while Ezra Williams added 26 points and Smith had 21.

"Hodge is doing well for us," Johnson said. "He's really a 2-guard, but we have him playing the point a lot. Not a lot of players can make that switch. If he keeps playing as hard as he's been playing, he'll be out of here (and back in Denver) real quick."

Brown said the Patriots are enjoying the recent run of success.

"Winning is contagious," he said. "It's an attitude. You start to feel like you're going to win every game. My grandmother used to say, 'Winning cures all misery.' And she was right."

The Patriots and Toros square off again Tuesday night at 7:30.