RALEIGH, N.C., FEB. 12 -- Rodney Monroe's driving layup, and a hard-fought victory over North Carolina, hung in the balance as the N.C. State guard lay prone on the Reynolds Coliseum floor. Fouled on the play, and unable to see the basket, Monroe awaited the home crowd's reaction as the ball danced several times around the rim before dipping through the net.
The score was greeted by a great cheer, eliciting an uncharacteristic display from Monroe. Before getting off his back to make the foul shot and complete the crucial three-point play, he grinned and pumped his fists modestly, as though running in place.
"And if you can call that emotion, you've got a scoop," said Al Daniel, an N.C. State assistant coach. "We kind of laughed at that, because that's about all you're going to get out of Rodney. Sometimes we call him 'Too Cool.' "
Cool as his demeanor may be, Monroe, a 6-foot-3 senior from Hagerstown, Md., has been a red-hot scorer ever since his arrival in Raleigh. He is the ACC's offensive leader, averaging 28.3 points per game, after finishing second in league scoring in each of the past two seasons. Entering tonight's home game against Robert Morris College, Monroe needs just 29 points to match David Thompson's career scoring output.
Thompson, a two-time national player of the year considered by many the greatest in ACC history, scored 2,309 points, tops at N.C. State and fifth in conference annals. (Monroe also has an outside chance of catching Wake Forest's Dickie Hemric, the league's all-time scoring leader, who had 2,587 points from 1952 to 1955.)
"His personality has helped him acquire the potential of breaking the record," said Les Robinson, N.C. State's first-year coach. "The key to him is he never gets down, he's not emotional, he never gets mad at a call. Never."
To be fair, the versatile, high-flying Thompson scored his points in a mere 86 games from 1973 to '75, and without benefit of dunks, a shot clock, or a three-point field goal. Then, freshmen weren't eligible for varsity competition.
Monroe, in contrast, has been a regular since his freshman year, playing 113 games. He also is the ACC's most feared three-point shooter, hitting 43.9 percent this season while attempting and making more long-range shots than anyone in the league. Monroe's shooting prowess is crucial to the success of Robinson's motion offense.
Even in fastbreak situations, when most teams attack the basket for a layup, Robinson's preferred shot is a three-pointer, most especially by Monroe.
"You're supposed to fill the lane," said point guard Chris Corchiani, soon to become the NCAA's all-time leader in assists, many of them to Monroe. "Rodney fills the line."
In 20 games this season, Monroe has attempted just one fewer three-pointer than he tried during 31 games last year, when his .483 accuracy paced the ACC. Scoring is nothing new to Monroe, 22, a sociology major who completed his career at St. Maria Goretti High School in Hagerstown as Maryland's all-time prep scoring leader.
Monroe has scored at least 30 points on 18 occasions at N.C. State, including a career-high 48 earlier this season in a home victory over Georgia Tech. Monroe has scored in double figures in 58 consecutive games, and 82 of his last 83.
"People know we're going to the kid for about 30 a game," said Daniel. "They know that, and he still gets it. Only a few players can do that. He's one of those special guys."
Monroe typically is low-key about his scoring prowess. "You know me," he said. "I'm just going to keep shooting, whether they stop going in or keep going in. I have the confidence in myself to keep shooting, and the coach and my teammates give me that confidence to keep shooting."
"He does things every game that just amaze you more and more," Corchiani said after Monroe scored 37 points against North Carolina, the most ever by an N.C. State player against the Tar Heels. "The funny thing is, he does it within the scheme of things."
Questions remain about Monroe's defense -- he has 19 steals this season in 20 games, hardly a mark of aggressiveness. Not until N.C. State's loss at North Carolina, in the return engagement of a consecutive-night series, did the senior foul out. And two of his fouls came on offense.
"Defensively, he's got a real problem because he's just not strong enough to fight through screens and picks," says an NBA scout who asked not to be identified. "That's beside the question of whether he wants to."
Still, according to the scout, Monroe is rated among the NBA's top senior prospects at big guard, along with Michigan State's Steve Smith, Temple's Mark Macon, Louisville's LaBradford Smith, and Darrin Chancellor of Southern Mississippi.
Straight ahead, though, is Thompson's record, which playmaker Corchiani had vowed to help Monroe break when the pair first arrived at Raleigh. "You say things like that," Monroe said, "but you never think it'll come true."
*Through Sunday's game.