GREENSBORO — Mark Gottfried tried to motivate his N.C. State team on Saturday, before the semifinal matchup with Miami in the ACC tournament, by talking about the championship game.
The ball will go up at 1 p.m. on Sunday at the Greensboro Coliseum, as Gottfried promised for ESPN's cameras, just as sure the nets will come down, but the Wolfpack won't be there.
Miami's Durand Scott scored a career-high 32 points to beat the Wolfpack 81-71 win to make sure of that. The Hurricanes (26-6), the winners of the regular season, will go for their first ACC title on Sunday against either North Carolina or Maryland.
The Wolfpack (24-10) can only watch and wait for the NCAA tournament. A slow start, compounded by a fast one by Scott, cost N.C. State a shot at its first title since 1987.
Miami built a 19-point lead in the first half, mostly with a variety of baskets from Scott, while N.C. State couldn't summon the defensive wherewithal it showed in previous tournament wins over Virginia Tech and Virginia.
"We were just in too big of a hole," Gottfried said. "We just had one of those days where we could not get going."
While State couldn't get going, Scott couldn't be stopped. The Wolfpack held Virginia Tech's Erick Green, the nation's leading scorer, to 15 points on Thursday and Virginia's Joe Harris to 13 in Friday's win.
Scott was able to make contested shots, and get to the basket, in ways neither Green nor Harris could against N.C. State's improving defense.
Scott made 12 of his 18 field goals and was 5 of 8 from 3-point range. Every time N.C. State put together a run, Scott had the answer.
N.C. State fought through the slow start to get its transition game going in the second half. Freshmen T.J. Warren and Rodney Purvis combined to score 10 straight points in a 13-4 run by the Wolfpack.
"We turned it up a little on defense and we got a little momentum," Purvis said.
The Coliseum crowd felt it, too, especially when a 3-pointer by senior Scott Wood (21 points), cut Miami's lead down to 50-44 at 12:03 in the second half.
But Scott had the answer to quiet the pro-Pack crowd. His 3, coming off of a timeout by coach Jim Larranaga, followed by a runner by guard Shane Larkin (23 points) pushed Miami's lead back to double digits.
A three-point play by Warren at 8:12 made it 58-48 but again Scott came back with a 3-pointer.
"We fought back and they came back with more," guard Lorenzo Brown said.
As much as Scott's scoring hurt, N.C. State's tournament hopes were sunk in the first half. N.C. State had five missed shots and two turnovers on its first seven possessions of the game.
The crisp passes and quick starts from Thursday and Friday were replaced by mistimed connections in transition and missed shots.
"That just wasn't us," Gottfried said.
And Miami, the surprise winner of the league with a 15-3 regular season, looked like the old "U" of their football glory years kicking behind and taking names.
"Miami today played like a No. 1 seed," Gottfried said.
The Hurricanes will get a shot to cut down the nets on Sunday. N.C. State leaves Greensboro with a job only half done.
"We did some good things here," Gottfried said. "We just didn't do enough."