RALEIGH — The best ACC basketball game of the season to this point ended Saturday in the PNC Arena with N.C. State losing a battle, but possibly winning a war.
Thanks to a game-winning, follow tip-in by Reggie Johnson in the final second, Miami (17-3, 8-0 ACC) left with a 79-78 win over the Wolfpack (16-6, 5-4).
But with Wolfpack point guard Lorenzo Brown sidelined by an injury, freshman Tyler Lewis came through with a performance that looked a lot more like Bobby Hurley than the seldom-used reserve N.C. State fans had seen in previous games.
“We’re a better team after tonight,” said fellow freshman Rodney Purvis, whose 70-foot desperation shot at the final horn almost changed the outcome.
“The way Tyler played in this game, we have to feel so great about our chances. He was amazing.”
Lewis, lightly recruited and lowly regarded by almost everyone except Wolfpack assistant coach Bob Lutz, finished with 16 points, five assists, only one turnover and two rebounds in 36 minutes.
Immediately after the game, Lewis left to join his family in mourning for his grandmother, Margie Lewis, who died Friday in Statesville.
“The whole team is with Tyler emotionally,” Purvis said.
And if it was a career-changing night for Lewis, it was just as big for both coaches – the Wolfpack’s Mark Gottfried and Miami’s Jim Larranaga.
Gottfried left with a loss but with a Plan B at point guard, meaning a Plan B at two other positions. Brown is capable of playing and starring at any spot on the perimeter and will get healthy – probably in time for the next game at Duke.
“We’re getting better all the time,” Gottfried said. “But we still have four conference losses.”
For Larranaga, once an assistant at Virginia under Terry Holland during the Ralph Sampson early-mid 1980s era, the win had to at least erase some of the pain to from a pair of losses to the Wolfpack during the 1983 ACC tournament championship at Atlanta and NCAA west regional title game in Ogden, Utah.
“If someone had told me State would have shot 53 percent and 44 percent on threes … I would have said we lost,” the second-year Hurricane coach said.
Gottfried later said Larranaga’s team will be difficult to catch for the conference regular-season title.
To put it all in focus, the ACC is not a great league this season and hasn’t been for a year or two. But Miami has a high ceiling, and the Wolfpack – in full health – may have an even higher one.
But Saturday was special.
It was a throwback game to a time when the ACC produced remarkable performances by little known players and memorable coaching performances by guys without great career resumes.
Only one team won, but in reality there were a lot of winners in the PNC.