All 18 conference games count the same in the ACC standings, but not to the NCAA tournament selection committee.
N.C. State had a chance on Sunday against No. 8 Notre Dame to put another big win in its back pocket.
But even with an 18-point lead in the first half and a five-point advantage in the waning moments of the second half, N.C. State couldn’t close the deal.
Senior guard Jerian Grant scored a game-high 25 points to lead the Fighting Irish to an 81-78 overtime win against N.C. State.
All ACC game are created equal, but N.C. State (13-8, 4-4 ACC) understood what it had and what it gave away.
“We had the game won,” junior guard Trevor Lacey said.
Up 71-66 with 1:16 left in the second half, it sure looked that way for N.C. State.
But V.J. Beachem’s tip-in for Notre Dame (19-2, 7-1) tied the game at 71 with 1.8 seconds left and forced overtime.
Ralston Turner and Pat Connaughton traded 3-pointers in overtime before Beachem’s driving layup with 1:02 left gave the Irish a 78-76 advantage.
Down 81-78, N.C. State had one last chance to extend the game but Grant blocked Lacey’s 3-point shot from the right wing.
For the second time in four days, N.C. State missed a chance to add a top-50 RPI win to its resume.
This was supposed to be the mulligan for the 65-60 loss at Miami on Thursday. Up 40-22 with 3:36 left in the first half, it certainly looked like N.C. State was going to atone it.
Instead, the Wolfpack’s treading in familiar bubble territory as the calendar creeps towards March.
With a win against either Miami (No. 36 in the RPI heading into Sunday) or Notre Dame (No. 40), coupled with the Duke win on Jan. 11, the Wolfpack could have avoided some of the drama that seems to follow the program right up until the bracket is unveiled on Selection Sunday.
“We had an opportunity and we just didn’t finish it,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “We had a chance there at the end of regulation and just needed to finish it.”
Technically, Notre Dame won the game in overtime but the end of regulation is where N.C. State lost.
After Lacey made a pair of free throws with 1:16 left in regulation, N.C. State led 71-66.
But as N.C. State’s prone to do, it fouled with the lead on Notre Dame’s next possession. Grant made only one of two free throws wit 1:12 left, but stopping the clock was worth the trade for the Irish.
N.C. State missed its shot on the next possession and Notre Dame guard Demetrius Jackson answered with a layup with 18.7 seconds left in regulation to cut N.C. State’s lead to 71-69.
Lacey then tried to throw full-court inbounds pass to a streaking Cody Martin, but Martin couldn’t control the lofted pass and the turnover gave Notre Dame the ball with 16.5 seconds left.
“I pretty much threw the game away,” Lacey said.
The Irish made the most of the extra chance. Connaughton missed a putback after a jumper by Grant but Beachem was there to clean up the trash. Those were two of 18 offensive rebounds Notre Dame had in the game.
The overtime was somewhat anticlimactic. The Wolfpack led twice in overtime but the Irish got seven straight points to pick up its fourth top-50 RPI win of the season.
N.C. State’s next three ACC games — Clemson (No. 98), at Georgia Tech (81) and at Wake Forest (138) — won’t offer the same chance to impress.
But more difficult opportunities – at home with unbeaten Virginia and Louisville – still remain.
“We just have to get it back somewhere else,” Gottfried said.