RALEIGH — For all the time they have spent at N.C. State, four years for Richard Howell and Scott Wood, three for Lorenzo Brown and C.J. Leslie, their legacies at N.C. State will be determined entirely by what happens in the next few weeks.
On the night N.C. State cut nearly all of its final ties to the Sidney Lowe regime senior night for Howell and Wood and certainly the final home game for Brown and Leslie, with only Jordan Vandenberg remaining from the previous era it tried yet again to find the spark that propelled the Wolfpack forward in March last year.
For all they have accomplished, they will be remembered by whether they can find it. For this group, theres still so much yet to be written, and so little time left to do it.
The main thing is you win games, Wood said. Thatd be really fitting for this program and all my teammates and all my coaching staff if we could make a good run in the tournament.
In many ways, the way N.C. State tore apart Wake Forest on Thursday on its way to an 81-66 win was the opposite of the collapse in Winston-Salem, the loss that epitomized the ways this N.C. State team has disappointed this season. Picked to win the ACC championship by both the coaches and the media, the Wolfpack still needs a significant amount of help elsewhere just to avoid playing on Thursday in Greensboro.
Still, for N.C. State fans who have suffered through some lean years, the course of this hardly qualifies as exasperating in the way that, say, the J.J. Hickson experiment was. And for this group of players, its a far cry from the frustration of their first few years with the Wolfpack.
Howell and Wood stuck it out through the coaching change. Brown was originally part of that recruiting class, but had to spend a year in prep school and came in with Leslie instead. They were all rewarded last spring by the NCAA tournament run under Mark Gottfried, and they all returned this season hoping for more.
I feel like Ive been playing with them forever, Wood said. Ive known Zo since the day he was recruited, and unfortunately he had to go to stupid prep school, so I didnt get to play an extra year with him. Weve been together for some bad stuff, weve been together for some good stuff. You can never take that away from us.
Its good to have the talent that justifies high standards, standards high enough that even with 22 wins already and an NCAA tournament bid safely secured, theres still so much this talented group, the soon-to-be departed, has left to accomplish.
The Wolfpack continues to tantalize, continues to offer hints of just how well it can play when it is focused and engaged. After sleepwalking through the first 10 minutes Thursday night, the Wolfpack started forcing turnovers and getting easy baskets in transition, with Leslie a dominant presence at both ends of the court. It was everything this team was supposed to be.
With two minutes to go, Howell and Wood came out. Jay Lewis, the third senior, came in. Lewis capped off his career with a 3-pointer, to the crowds delight. The others still have the chance to determine how their careers will end.
Its in their hands. There has never been any doubt about that. Thursday was the end of something. For Howell and Wood and Brown and Leslie, theres still time for it to be the beginning of something else.
DeCock: firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947