It wasn’t nearly as suspenseful for N.C. State this year, but it was something of a surprise for Wolfpack senior Ralston Turner.
“Pretty ironic,” Turner said Sunday.
When the NCAA tournament field was announced Sunday, the Pack (20-13) was made the No. 8 seed in the East Region. N.C. State’s opponent then flashed up on the screen: LSU, the No. 9 seed.
The Pack (20-13) will face the Tigers (22-10) in a Thursday game in Pittsburgh. Villanova is the region’s top seed and plays No. 16 Lafayette, with the winner taking on the N.C. State-LSU survivor.
Turner played two years for the Tigers before transferring to N.C. State in 2012 when former coach Trent Johnson left for Texas Christian and Johnny Jones was hired by LSU and couldn’t convince him to stay.
Turner said the game won’t have any extra meaning for him, noting none of the current LSU players were his former teammates.
“I’m excited to go to the tournament,” Turner said. “That’s really all that matters. We’re getting an opportunity to play in the tournament and that’s one of our goals this year.”
A year ago, the Pack had to sweat it out as a bubble team. N.C. State made the field but had to make a quick turnaround, flying to Dayton, Ohio, to face Xavier in a first-round play-in game.
“Even though I had a pretty good feeling we were in, I was still nervous,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said of Sunday’s NCAA selection show. “There wasn’t as much drama this year as there was in the past.
“I’m proud of our group. I’m proud of the distance they’ve come from the beginning of the season until now.”
Gottfried, who has taken the Pack to the NCAA tournament each of his first four years as coach, one short of the school record for consecutive appearances, also has a tie to LSU – Tigers coach Johnny Jones once was an assistant on Gottfried’s staff at Alabama.
Then there’s LSU guard Keith Hornsby. He started his college career at UNC Asheville, played against the Pack and considered transferring to N.C. State. The Pack already had a commitment from another transfer, Trevor Lacey, and Hornsby wound up in Baton Rouge.
Hornsby, a 6-foot-4 junior, has made a team-high 70 three-pointers and is shooting 39 percent from the arc.
“I was happy to see him go to LSU because Johnny Jones is a good friend of mine and he’s had a great run,” Gottfried said. “The last couple of games have been his best of the year.”
But Hornsby won’t be the Pack’s biggest concern. While the Tigers have balanced scoring, 6-10 sophomore Jarell Martin is a handful and the leading scorer (16.9).
Martin had 21 points and 11 rebounds in the Tigers’ scare of unbeaten and top-ranked Kentucky in Baton Rouge. LSU lost 71-69, outscoring the ’Cats 21-2 at one point in the second half.
“That gets your attention,” Gottfried said.
LSU was upset by Auburn in the Southeastern Conference tournament this past week. The Pack opened the ACC tournament with an impressive win over Pittsburgh as sophomore point guard Cat Barber had 34 points, then was hammered 77-53 by Duke in the quarterfinals as Barber left the game after a collision with the Blue Devils’ Amile Jefferson.
Barber was evaluated by doctors in Raleigh and treated for muscle spasms in his neck. He was cleared to play and Gottfried said he was at practice Sunday.
“You always worry about a concussion of some sort and I’m glad that wasn’t the case,” Gottfried said. “He shot the ball really well and was quick and was the old Cat.”
RECORD: 22-10. LAST 10: 6-4
BID: At-large. RPI: 53
9:57 p.m. Thursday (TBS)