All the close calls that went against N.C. State during the regular season are suddenly going the Wolfpack’s way in the NCAA tournament.
N.C. State, a No.8 seed, is going back to the Sweet 16 for the second time in four years after its 71-68 upset of top-seeded Villanova on Saturday.
To N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried, there are bigger goals for the Wolfpack, which beat a No. 1 seed for the first time since 1983.
“It’s nice to be in the Sweet 16, but we’re hungry for more,” Gottfried said.
“We’re going to go to Syracuse next week and we’re not going to be content at all with being where we are.”
Junior guard Trevor Lacey (17 points) helped lead the Wolfpack to Syracuse, N.Y., for the East Region semifinals next week. But forwards Abdul-Malik Abu and Lennard Freeman gave an extra push. Each added a double-double as the Wolfpack snapped the Wildcats’ 16-game winning streak.
“They were relentless rebounding the basketball,” Gottfried said. “That was the difference for us offensively.”
N.C State (22-13) went through a stretch in conference play where it lost by two points to North Carolina, three to Notre Dame and four to Virginia and it looked like it wouldn’t even make the tournament field.
Instead, after two tight wins, N.C. State’s on its way back to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2012, Gottfried’s first season.
You have to go back to the ’83 national title win over Houston for the last time the Wolfpack beat a No. 1 seed.
N.C. State guards have been the headliners all season, and senior Desmond Lee provided a spark in the first half off the bench, but the forwards have done the dirty work in the tournament.
The Wolfpack got an unlikely buzzer-beater from BeeJay Anya on Thursday to knock out Louisiana State in the Round of 64. Abu finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds against a smaller Villanova (33-3) lineup. Freeman had 11 points and 12 rebounds as N.C. State won the margin on the glass, 45-32.
“They played big,” said Lee, who added seven points and two rebounds in 20 minutes. “They imposed their will.”
Villanova cut a 12-point N.C. State lead in the second half to two with 41.1 seconds left on a 3-pointer by Darrun Hilliard (game-high 27 points).
After a turnover by Lacey with 36.8 seconds left, Villanova got the ball back down 67-65.
Dylan Ennis missed an open 3-pointer and guard Cat Barber got the rebound with 14.6 seconds left. Barber made both free throws to give the Wolfpack a 69-65 advantage.
Hilliard buried another 3 with 1.7 seconds left, but Ralston Turner made both free throws and Lee ended up with an errant inbounds pass as the buzzer went off.
N.C. State built a 12-point lead with a quick start to the second half. The Wolfpack kept going inside and kept getting results.
Abu’s dunk at 16 minutes, 6 seconds to give N.C. State a 40-33 lead prompted a timeout from Villanova coach Jay Wright.
The Wolfpack proceeded to score the next five points, the last on a layuyp by Abu to push the Wolfpack to a 45-33 advantage.
Villanova couldn’t have started much worse from the floor. The Wildcats missed 12 of their first 14 shots and Hilliard was the only player who made a field goal for nearly 10 minutes.
The Wolfpack led early 15-10, but the score was tied at 17 and then four more times until the Wolfpack scored the final seven points of the half.
Lacey made 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Wolfpack a 32-28 lead at the half. There were tense moments but N.C. State never trailed in the second half.
The Wolfpack is headed back to the Sweet 16, after a pair of wins by four points, while the No. 1 seed is going home.
“I don’t believe in magic,” Abu said, “but this is another feeling. We just want to keep it going.”