Warren's 28 points, wild finish help NC State in upset of Syracuse

jgiglio@newsobserver.comMarch 14, 2014 

— With 3 minutes left in Friday’s ACC tournament game between N.C. State and Syracuse, fans from both teams rose to their feet.

The packed Greensboro Coliseum could sense a classic unfolding before its eyes, the kind that used to be routine in this building, the kind that made this tournament great.

Just like old times, N.C. State needed a win to get into NCAA tournament contention. Just like old times, N.C. State got it. With 28 points from sophomore T.J. Warren – and one wild sequence by Syracuse on its last possession – the Wolfpack pulled off a 66-63 upset.

N.C. State (21-12) moves on to the semifinals for the third straight year under coach Mark Gottfried. The seventh-seeded Wolfpack will face the winner of Duke-Clemson at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

The crowd could only roar, take a breath and roar some more as Syracuse (27-5) got six shots on its final possession – including four potential game-tying 3-pointers – but couldn’t make one.

“I was definitely holding my breath,” said junior Ralston Turner, whose 3-pointer with 2:26 left gave the Wolfpack the lead for good.

When N.C. State finally exhaled and celebrated, it had a win over the Orange, No. 11 in the RPI, to give themselves a signature victory for its NCAA tournament resume.

It was a win, N.C. State’s fifth in the past seven games, that was especially sweet after a painful 56-55 loss Feb. 15 at Syracuse. The Orange used a late N.C. State turnover to pull out the win. There was also a controversial foul call that aided the Orange’s effort. There was no drama with the officials Friday just in the finish.

“Sometimes those kind of things balance out in life,” Gottfried said. “We had the tough one earlier in the year where we didn’t finish. Today, maybe fate was on our side on the last possession.”

Warren, who scored at least 20 points for the 16th straight game, made two free throws with 24.6 seconds left to give the Wolfpack a 66-63 lead. Then it got crazy.

Syracuse took six shots in 21 seconds. Freshman guard Tyler Ennis, who led the Orange with 21 points, missed a runner, which Jerami Grant (19 points and 10 rebounds) tried to slam home. Grant’s dunk clanged off the back of the rim, but Syracuse got the rebound and Ennis misfired a 3.

Rakeem Christmas corralled Ennis’ second miss of the possession with 11 seconds left, and then the Orange started to panic. Trevor Cooney fired up a wild 3, followed by an even wilder attempt by C.J. Fair from the right baseline. Finally, after another Cooney miss, Fair stepped out of bounds with 1.3 seconds left, giving the ball back to the Wolfpack.

“It just didn’t make sense,” N.C. State senior Jordan Vandenberg said of the final sequence. “I just pretended it didn’t happen.”

Just like at Syracuse back in February, N.C. State had control of the game in the second half. The Wolfpack stretched out to a 10-point lead with a 13-3 run. A deep 3-pointer from Turner and two pretty assists from Cat Barber, which led to dunks, helped the Pack build a 50-40 advantage at 11:02.

But Ennis scored eight straight points and led a comeback for the Orange. An alley-oop to Rakeem Christmas at 5:22 cut the Pack’s lead to 55-54. The two teams went back and forth from there over the final 5 minutes. Two free throws by Ennis gave the Orange a 58-57 lead at 3:56. That was Syracuse’s first lead of the second half.

Turner’s 3 from the top of the key, which actually banked in, swung the momentum back in State’s favor. After the painful lessons of tough losses earlier in the season, the Wolfpack finally closed the door on a big win, in a building where it has won some of its biggest games.

“We had some games where we didn’t finish, and they hurt, they hurt bad,” Gottfried said. “We’ve learned, we’ve grown up and we’ve gotten better.”

 

Giglio: 919-829-8938; Twitter: @jwgiglio

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