NC State holds off Harvard for NIT win

There are different ways to describe N.C. State’s NIT win over Harvard on Sunday at Reynolds Coliseum.

The game was up-tempo, with both teams going up and down the floor and eager to run. The game was tight, with each side going back and forth and trading paint in the second half.

But the easiest way to describe N.C. State’s 78-77 win is it was fun.

“It was definitely fun,” said guard Markell Johnson, who finished with 13 points and five assists.

The Wolfpack (24-11) will host Lipscomb on Wednesday night (9 p.m.) at Reynolds Coliseum with a spot in New York, for the NIT semifinals, on the line.

Winning is always fun but for the second round of the NIT, there was a lot to like about Sunday’s game. The atmosphere at Reynolds, the style of play and the quality of play to name three reasons.

“The crowd was super into it,” said senior Torin Dorn, who had 10 points and eight rebounds.

There were points in the first half when N.C. State was out in transition and building a 12-point, where it felt like an episode of “Oprah.” “You get a dunk!” and “You get dunk!” The crowd, at least temporarily over being left out of the NCAA tournament, was having a blast.

N.C. State’s Devon Daniels (24) slams against Harvard during the first half of the second round of the NIT at Reynolds Coliseum Sunday, March 24, 2019. TRAVIS LONG

“The crowd, the atmosphere is awesome,” forward Wyatt Walker said. “Reynolds is awesome.”

But Harvard didn’t make any of it easy. Guards Noah Kirkwood and Bryce Aiken each had 19 points. After N.C. State went up 24-12 in the first half, Harvard was able to use a 16-4 run with Johnson on the bench in foul trouble, to tie it up at 28. The Crimson pushed ahead 36-31 on a dunk by Chris Lewis at 3:57.

N.C. State trailed 39-38 at the half and then Johnson immediately made his presence felt. He had a steal and layup on the first possession of the second half. The second of back-to-back 3-pointers by Johnson gave N.C. State a 49-47 lead.

The teams went back-and-forth down the stretch until Johnson’s drive and dish to Walker for the layup with 50.5 seconds left gave N.C. State a 74-70 lead.

Aiken had a chance to win the game after he missed a free throw with 17.1 seconds left and Harvard got the rebound. Aiken was out on the left wing, behind the 3-point line. With Harvard down 76-74, Braxton Beverly closed out and contested Aiken’s shot.

Beverly wasn’t officially credited with a block but that’s what it looked like. Aiken, who was charged with a turnover, tried to grab the ball after Beverly deflected and then lost the ball out of bounds with 7.1 seconds left.

N.C. State’s Braxton Beverly (10) contests Harvard’s Bryce Aiken (11) during final seconds of the second half of the second round of the NIT at Reynolds Coliseum Sunday, March 24, 2019. N.C. State won 78-77. TRAVIS LONG

“I thought (Beverly) timed it right,” N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts said of Beverly’s defensive play. “I thought he did a tremendous job. I was nervous, as everybody was in Reynolds, when I saw that Braxton was guarding him in the end. I thought he made a great play.”

C.J. Bryce, who finished with a team-high 16 points, made a pair of free throws to push N.C. State’s lead to 78-74 but Harvard still wasn’t finished. Rio Haskett banked in a running 3-point prayer with 2.5 seconds left to cut N.C. State’s lead to 78-77.

Johnson was able to get the inbounds pass and dribble out the clock for the win.

“It got hectic there but it went our way,” Johnson said.

There’s only one way to have more fun, Dorn said.

“It’s always fun to play in games like that,” Dorn said. “It’s even more fun to get to play another game. After losing (to Georgia Tech) on Senior Night, I didn’t think I’d get another chance to play at home. So this is really sweet.”