RALEIGH, N.C., FEB. 3 -- With about the best impression someone 6 feet 5 can give of a dominating big man, Virginia's Mel Kennedy dueled basket for basket with Charles Shackleford for a half, then with Vinny Del Negro for 20 minutes.

But North Carolina State's slightly better versatility enabled the Wolfpack to build a slim cushion midway through the second half and hold on for a 75-69 victory before 11,700 at Reynolds Coliseum.

Kennedy leaned, pushed and even popped outside for an occasional three-pointer en route to a career-high 34 points on 14-of-19 field goal shooting.

Del Negro scored all 20 of his points in the second half after Shackleford hit all seven of his shots for 14 of his 21 points before intermission.

"At halftime, we had them just where we wanted them," Wolfpack Coach Jim Valvano said. "Kennedy had 19 and Vinny had none. Our game plan called for {Kennedy} to get 35 . . . I can't remember the five shots he missed."

Del Negro more than made up for his first-half drought with clutch shooting down the stretch. As the Cavaliers (12-10 overall, 4-3 in the ACC) were going scoreless for more than four minutes midway through the second half, Del Negro's 12-foot jumper in transition started an 8-0 run that provided the Wolfpack (13-4, 4-2) with a 52-48 lead it never lost.

Every time the Wolfpack threatened to pull away, the Cavaliers dug in and looked for Kennedy. Del Negro's back-to-back 18-footers and fast-break dunk, sandwiched around a Chucky Brown 17-foot jumper, made it 62-52 with 8:33 to go. But Kennedy responded with three straight baskets and John Johnson's hanging drive brought the Cavaliers within two.

"{Kennedy is} almost impossible to stop because he gets down low, backs you down and you can't get around him," said Brown, who battled Kennedy man to man in the second half as the Wolfpack eschewed its halftime plan of a box-and-one. "You're huffing and puffing and pushing, and he gets the ball off before you're even back on your feet."

The struggle continued until Del Negro put the Cavaliers away with 10 of his team's final 11 points. It wasn't over, however, until the final of those with 35 seconds remaining, a three-point play for a 74-69 advantage.

It came on a driving, double-pump leaner, and was a play the Wolfpack call "Special." "In that kind of situation, we call 'Special' because we want Vinny with the ball," Valvano said. "He wants it and he knows what to do with it."

"I knew I had {Darrick Simms} once I spun to the middle and got him on my back," Del Negro said. "I leaned back into him because I knew it would be his foul and just concentrated on the shot."

The first half was Shackleford versus Kennedy. Kennedy made eight of 10 field goals for 19 points in the half, and Shackleford gave notice very quickly the Wolfpack intended to ram the ball inside by scoring 10 of N.C. State's first 12 points.

"If I hit my first shot, I'm on a roll," said Shackleford, who forced Cavaliers center Bill Batts into quick and constant foul trouble.

"Without Bill in there, I felt the inside burden fell on me," Kennedy said. "Once I started scoring inside, I moved out and it kept going . . . But we were always battling uphill, and it took too much out of us by the end."