COLUMBUS, Ohio — After he made the free throws to clinch N.C. State's spot in the round of 16, sophomore guard Lorenzo Brown clenched both fists, looked over to the Wolfpack fans behind press row and screamed:
As the seconds melted off the clock, and Jason Clark's last-second shot fell short for Georgetown, 11th-seeded N.C. State had every reason to celebrate Sunday's 66-63 over the third-seeded Hoyas in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
Eleven months ago, N.C. State was a program without a coach, ridiculed by the national media as the little brother to national powers North Carolina and Duke and as a job no one wanted, except Mark Gottfried.
Gottfried, the first N.C. State coach since Jim Valvano to win 24 games in a season, beamed as he walked off the court at Nationwide Arena arm-and-arm with Brown. He took a team that went 15-16 a year ago into the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005 and only the second time since 1989.
N.C. State will play Kansas on Friday in St. Louis. The North Carolina Tar Heels will join the Pack at the Midwest Regional.
"It's a great win for our program," Gottfried said. "But, you know, really you just look at this group of guys, to me what stands out is how they've gotten better and they're continuing to get better."
The Wolfpack (24-12) won for the sixth time in seven games and for the sixth straight game, held its opponent under 70 points.
State had played plenty of elite teams close during the season but it could not break through for a signature win against Syracuse, Indiana, Vanderbilt, UNC or Duke. It held second-half leads against Indiana, Stanford and Duke, by 20 on the road on Feb. 16, but couldn't close the door against high-profile teams until Sunday.
N.C. State built an 11-point lead in the second half with Georgetown (24-9) center Henry Sims mired in foul trouble and Scott Wood and C.J. Williams, 14 points each, taking advantage of the Hoyas' perimeter defense.
Wood buried a 3-pointer, his fourth of the game, which was a good sign because it gave State a 57-50 lead with 4:12 to play and because State's unbeaten in 10 games when Wood makes at least four 3s.
That record, and State's 17-2 mark when it holds an opponent under 70 points, was at risk when junior Hollis Thompson nearly shot the Hoyas straight to St. Louis.
Thompson pumped in 17 of his game-high 23 points in the second half, his 3 with 1 minute left cut the Pack's advantage to 61-57.
The Pack's problems from the free-throw line started when Richard Howell, who finished with a game-high 10 rebounds, made one and missed one with 59.7 seconds left.
Sims responded with his only basket of the game to cut the lead to 62-59. Brown missed the front end of a one-and-one after Sims' layup and then Sims came down and buried two free throws with 37 seconds left to make it 62-61.
Wood, a 92 percent free-throw shooter, missed one of his free throws to give Georgetown the ball, down two points, with 35 seconds left.
"I was trying to help CBS' rating," Wood joked.
Out of a timeout by coach John Thompson III, forward Otto Porter ended up taking a 12-footer with 12 seconds left, which fell short and Brown corralled the rebound.
With 10.6 seconds, Brown made both free throws, prompting a Georgetown timeout and his fist-pumping celebration.
"You never know what to expect in this tournament," Brown said.
It wasn't over, though, until Clark's 25-footer from the right elbow missed the rim wide and left. By that time, State's players poured off the court to set off a wild celebration, six years in the making.
Giglio: (919) 829-8938