N.C. State last, but in the NCAA tourney

calexander@newsobserver.comMarch 11, 2012 

N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said it was torture.

Wolfpack senior C.J. Williams said he was sinking deeper and deeper into his seat, the tension building.

As for athletic director Debbie Yow, she said she was steeling herself to be strong for the players should the ultimate disappointment unfold and the Pack be left out of the NCAA Tournament.

Only one tournament slot was unfilled Sunday and the Wolfpack still waiting. Then, just like that, there it was being flashed on the CBS Selection Show: N.C. State on the board. It was cardiac for the Pack, but N.C. State made it as an 11th seed in the Midwest Region and will face sixth-seeded San Diego State (26-7) on Friday in Columbus, Ohio.

“It was intense,” Pack junior Scott Wood said. “Everything is wandering through your mind. You’re not going to be in. What if you’re the last one?

“That’s about as crazy as it can get, right there. When you come down to the last pick it’s like, ‘Oh, please, just please.’”

The team, staff and athletic department officials gathered Sunday at NCSU’s Park Alumni Center to watch the CBS show. When the selection was made, cheers could be heard through the brick walls, soon followed by the fight song.

“Today was a long day and that show was a long show, when you’re the last team to go up on the board,” Gottfried said. “It’s as gut-wrenching as anything I’ve ever been through.”

The expectations for Gottfried’s first Wolfpack team weren’t high. But the Pack finished 22-12 overall against a schedule Gottfried quickly toughened, was 9-7 in the ACC and reached the ACC Tournament semifinals before a close loss to North Carolina.

Now, for the first time since 2006, the Pack is back in the NCAA Tournament.

“I’m very proud of Mark and his staff,” said athletic director Debbie Yow, who hired Gottfried. “We deserved it. Our kids are playing at the level that they need to be playing at to be in the tournament.”

Yow said she was nervous Sunday. She said the Pack’s RPI and strength of schedule were higher than Virginia’s, and that N.C. State beat the Cavaliers in the ACC Tournament, and that she was more optimistic after Virginia went on the board.

“But we got down to the last slot,” she said. “I was saying to myself, ‘I’m an adult and if they don’t get in they’re going to be crushed. Someone has to be an adult and that has to be you.’“

Gottfried said the same thing was flashing through his mind. What do you say?

But then, instant elation. For Williams, to get a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament in his last season is decidedly sweet.

“After the last three years you definitely kind of think that you’re running out of chances,” WIlliams said. “But this year I felt we had the team, the discipline and the basketball talent to make it, and to know we’re finally there, where we wanted to be ... it’s great to know we’re finally in it.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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