CORAL GABLES, Fla. — N.C. State's players gathered in front of the team bus outside the BankUnited Center on Sunday and celebrated the 78-73 win against Miami with their families.
With a 4-1 start in the ACC, the Wolfpack's prospects appear as bright as the warm Florida sun.
"We haven't been 4-1 in the conference since I've been here," junior forward DeShawn Painter said.
In each of Painter's first two seasons, State went 5-11 in the ACC. Coach Mark Gottfried wants to flip that to 11-5 in his first season.
N.C. State, which is tied for first place in the ACC with Florida State and Duke, hasn't been 4-1 in the league in eight years. The Wolfpack began the 2003-04 season 4-1 and finished 11-5.
Gottfried said after Sunday's game that the Wolfpack can't lose sight of how it got to this point.
"With us, what's important is, regardless of the standings, we have to keep our eye on the ball," Gottfried said. "We have to be careful right now. We have to stay focused. Each game is one game, and we've got a lot of games left to play in this league."
State has 11 ACC games left, with a trip to No. 7 North Carolina on Thursday next on the list. The Wolfpack took a 4-1 record into Chapel Hill eight years ago and lost to Roy Williams' first UNC team, 68-66. Williams has beaten State 15 times in 16 meetings since.
Thursday will be Gottfried's first game against the Tar Heels, and it's one of four chances State has against the three elite ACC teams (the Wolfpack has a scheduled rematch with the Tar Heels in Raleigh on Feb. 21 but only one game each with Florida State and Duke).
None of the Wolfpack players were talking about the Tar Heels on Sunday, though. There was too much to digest from the win.
Junior guard Scott Wood set an ACC record for consecutive made free throws (58 and counting) and scored 21 points. Painter chipped in 18 points off the bench, after both Richard Howell and C.J. Leslie struggled with foul trouble. And senior C.J. Williams, who injured his right shoulder the previous game, was able to play 31 minutes and score 10 points in the process.
"As a whole, we're just playing well together," Painter said.
Gottfried was happy with the way his team closed the first half and defended Miami from the 3-point line (2-for-20), but he wasn't thrilled with how the Hurricanes got back in the game late in the second half.
Gottfried still is waiting for a complete, 40-minute effort. Even with the win and 4-1 start, he repeated the same mantra from when he was hired in April that N.C. State has a "long way to go."
"Our guys know, we've got a long way to go to be good," Gottfried said. "We're not very good as far as what we can become."