DeCock: Gottfried's confidence in players propels Pack

luke.decock@newsobserver.comMarch 16, 2012 

N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried cheers on the Wolfpack during the second half against San Diego State in the second round of the Midwestern Region of the NCAA men's basketball tournament at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio on Friday, March 16, 2012. N.C. State won the game 79-65.

GREG MINTEL — Greg Mintel - newsobserver.com

— How long had C.J. Williams waited? How many times had he self-described basketball junkie watched NCAA tournament games on television, wondering if he would ever get the chance? How many losses, how many dark nights?

So if he riled up San Diego State with a dunk when the Aztecs thought N.C. State was going to run out the clock, Williams wasn’t going to worry about it. If the clock had expired and the buzzer buzzed when he went in for another dunk, that wasn’t going to bother him either.

“That was emphatic,” Williams said. “That was more of an emotional thing. … A couple times during my career, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to make it to the tournament. It just feels good to be here now, and win a game.”

Williams was determined to enjoy a moment that was a long, long time in arriving.

It had been six years since N.C. State last won an NCAA tournament game. For Williams, the team’s only four-year player, it didn’t matter how long. He only knew that he hadn’t gone. He came back into the game Friday after rolling his ankle late; one extra dunk wasn’t going to hurt anyone.

Only the NCAA thought the 11th-seeded Wolfpack’s 79-65 win over the sixth-seeded Aztecs was an upset. “Confidence” was the word most often mentioned afterward: How the team played with confidence and how the players credited the coaching staff for giving them confidence. It was a reminder of just how much had changed in less than a year.

“I believe in these guys, I really do,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “I have believed that if in fact they could do things the right way, defend the right way, execute offense at key times, that they had a chance. So it’s nice to see all that come together right now.”

If there’s one thing N.C. State’s program didn’t have when Gottfried walked in the door 11 months ago, it was confidence. The players had been beaten down by too many bad losses and unmet expectations.

Yet here they are, exceeding all expectations. Gottfried set the bar low over the summer, describing the talent on the team as “not great” and “not terrible,” but by the time ACC season rolled around, he was talking about the NCAA tournament. Now, the words “Final Four” keep popping out of his mouth with somewhat surprising regularity.

“We knew we had the talent,” N.C. State junior Scott Wood said. “We just had to come together as a team and get better each and every day. That’s what we’ve done. We always knew we had a lot of talent here and we could be successful.”

San Diego State was a good draw for the Wolfpack, with no starter over 6-foot-7, and Richard Howell made the most of an officiating crew content to let the players decide things. It was a refreshing change from an ACC tournament that suffered badly from overadjudication.

Howell said he “felt free” during a foul-free first half, and that’s the way the Wolfpack is playing. Even making the tournament was a freebie, given the state of the program a year ago. The N.C. State players have been knocked down (name a tough loss: Indiana, Duke, North Carolina), but gotten up again each time.

They’ll face a different kind of opponent Sunday: Georgetown has all the size San Diego State didn’t. Having come this far, it’s hard to see N.C. State backing down now.

twitter.com/LukeDeCock or 919-829-8947

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