ST. LOUIS — History was waiting for N.C. State. Kansas decided to make its own instead.
With a date with North Carolina in the Final Eight on the line, N.C. State bowed out of the NCAA tournament on Friday night in a 60-57 loss to second-seeded Kansas in the Midwest Regional semifinals.
Instead of an historic fourth meeting between the Wolfpack and Tar Heels what would have been the first in the NCAA tournament between the two rivals the Jayhawks will get a rematch of the 2008 Final Four with their former coach, UNC's Roy Williams.
Kansas, which beat UNC in the '08 national semifinals, set up the rematch with Williams, their coach of 15 seasons, with 18 points and 15 rebounds by All-American forward Thomas Robinson.
N.C. State (24-13) went from one of the last at-large teams in the NCAA tournament field to the Sweet 16 but could not get back to the Final Eight for the first time since 1986.
"I'm not sure I can be more proud than I am of our team," coach Mark Gottfried said. "This team learned how to compete and keep fighting and they did it again today. We just came up a little bit short."
N.C. State had four chances in the final minute to either take the lead or force an overtime. Richard Howell's contested 3-pointer at the buzzer fell short of the rim. State had better looks, like Scott Wood's missed 3 from the top of the key with 20 seconds left. Down 58-57, C.J. Leslie (team-high 18 points) grabbed Wood's miss and drove to the basket but Kansas center Jeff Withey, who blocked 10 shots, altered Leslie's attempt.
Kansas couldn't put the game away. Tyshawn Taylor got the outlet pass of Leslie's miss and was fouled with 16 seconds left. Taylor missed the free throw but Kansas got the ball after Howell (16 rebounds) tipped the rebound out of bounds with 14 seconds left. A layup from Elijah Johnson (11 points) increased Kansas' margin to 60-57.
N.C. State had a chance to tie the game but Wood caught a cross-court pass with 5 seconds left and stepped out of bounds with his back right heel. Robinson missed a free throw to give State one last chance with 2.9 seconds left.
C.J. Williams' (10 points) fullcourt inbounds pass found Howell in front of the bench, about 25 feet from the basket. He had Wood open to his right, as the play was designed, but fired the last shot.
I didnt know there was that much time on the clock," Howell said. "That was my mistake. If I knew there was that much time, I would have kicked it to Scott."
Foul trouble early in the second half for Leslie, in perhaps his last college game, derailed the 11th-seeded Pack's upset hopes. Riding a rocket of confidence, the Pack led by 10 points early and 33-32 at the half, with 12 first-half points from Leslie.
Then Kansas started the second half with a 12-2 run to take control of the game. Leslie picked up his fourth foul with 15:55 left in the game, after what appeared to be a foul on Howell, who contested a layup by Withey.
"Any time he gets in a little bit of foul trouble, it hurts us," Wood said.
Up 42-35 when Leslie went to the bench, Kansas extended its lead to 50-40 at the 11:06 mark with an alley-oop from Taylor to Withey. N.C. State tried defend the bruising Robinson with seldom-used freshman Tyler Harris, who hadn't played more than 5 minutes in a game since Jan. 19 but couldn't slow the Kansas star.
Withey helped Robinson on the defensive end and Johnson added 11 points for the Jayhawks.
Leslie came back in the game at the 7:23 mark. Leslie added six points in the second half and Wood's three free throws with 1:56 left cut Kansas' margin to 58-55.
A steal and dunk by Williams with 1:20 made it Kansas by just a point. After a shot-clock violation by the Jayhawks, State got the ball with 42 seconds left but couldn't execute in the final minute.
Howell's last gasp fell short and instead of history, leaves only one ACC team in Sunday's regional final.