RALEIGH — Lorenzo Brown maneuvered around one defender, and then another, and by then had used up most of the 7.8 seconds N.C. State had left. The plan was for Brown to cut down the lane, with Scott Wood waiting in the corner, but he could never get around the Virginia defenders. He finally took the final shot from the right wing, and as it bounced away, so did N.C. State's last chance.
The rule is to make sure one loss doesn't beat you twice, and given the way the Wolfpack played in Thursday's dismal loss to North Carolina, there was certainly a risk of that Saturday against Virginia.
That didn't happen. N.C. State lost, 61-60, but the Wolfpack will look back at this one as a game it could have, even should have, won. There was no North Carolina hangover, only a game-winner that didn't go in.
"They laid everything they had on the line, and I feel bad for my guys," N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. "I do."
Down by as many as 10 in the second half, the Wolfpack fought back to cut the lead to four, to two, and finally to one in the final minute. N.C. State came up with a stop at the defensive end, with Sammy Zeglinski driving on Wood but missing the layup, and had that one last shot to close the gap.
There were many points in the second half where N.C. State could have packed it in, particularly when one run of fouls against them seemed interminable and Wood missed 3-pointers on consecutive possessions. But the Wolfpack kept chipping away, which sounds easier than it is against Virginia, a team that thrives on keeping the pace low and the defensive intensity high.
Richard Howell was an absolute monster on the glass before fouling out, with nine of his 18 rebounds at the offensive end, helping State outrebound Virginia 42-25 two days after the Tar Heels had a 48-26 edge.
Wood missed six 3-pointers, but knocked one in from the left corner with 45 seconds to go to make it 61-60, and was able to steer Zeglinski far away enough from the rim to force a miss on Virginia's final possession. And with Wood and Brown misfiring and Howell in foul trouble, C.J. Leslie stepped up his offensive game, finishing with 17 points
None of that would have mattered if Brown had found an open look at the end, but if there's a team in the ACC this season that's best equipped to defend one single game-changing possession, it just might be Virginia.
As for N.C. State, it's still a loss, but an effort that can put Thursday's loss to North Carolina far behind the Wolfpack. Even the Tar Heels have been blown out this year, as Gottfried pointed out.
What matters is not the loss but the response. N.C. State responded Saturday. The Wolfpack's chance to win rimmed out.
"These things happen," Gottfried said. "Our team competed really hard tonight. Our guys competed with everything they had."
Gottfried paused, his elbows on the lectern, his shoulders slumped forward, equal parts exhausted and proud.
"My heart aches for my guys," Gottfried said, the complaint of a coach who has no complaints with the way his team played.