COLUMBUS, Ohio — 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 wasnt going to worry about it. If the clock had expired and the buzzer buzzed when he went in for another dunk, that wasnt going to bother him either.
That was emphatic, Williams said. That was more of an emotional thing. A couple times during my career, I didnt 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 teams only four-year player, it didnt matter how long. He only knew that he hadnt gone. He came back into the game Friday after rolling his ankle late; one extra dunk wasnt going to hurt anyone.
Only the NCAA thought the 11th-seeded Wolfpacks 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 its nice to see all that come together right now.
If theres one thing N.C. States program didnt 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. Thats what weve 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 thats 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.
Theyll face a different kind of opponent Sunday: Georgetown has all the size San Diego State didnt. Having come this far, its hard to see N.C. State backing down now.
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