The Florida sun broke brightly through patchy clouds as N.C. State’s coaches and players exited the loading dock and walked to their bus Saturday afternoon. This was a day the Wolfpack could truly say the sun was shining on them.
Coming off last Saturday’s disheartening loss at North Carolina, the Wolfpack could have gone two ways. Playing Miami, a team yet to win an ACC home game this season, there was no middle ground. A win would be cathartic, a loss catastrophic. So those were the stakes to start the second half of the conference schedule: .500 in the ACC or 4-6 with a difficult, crowded stretch ahead.
Saturday’s 56-55 win over the Hurricanes came down to one rebound, really: Kyle Washington pulling down a missed Raphael Akpejiori free throw with 1.8 seconds to play, then enduring a six-minute video review as the officials tried to determine if Washington had elbowed anyone in the scrum under the basket.
“The officials told me there was no obvious evidence,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said, although not for lack of trying. Between the analysis of the Washington rebound like it was the Zapruder film and the whistle-swallowing as Rion Brown tried to draw a foul on his three-quarter court heave at the buzzer, the Wolfpack ended up on the good side of two 50-50 calls, hereby noted for the historical record.
The Wolfpack is also 50-50 in the ACC, and 5-5 (15-8 overall) is a solid record for an inexperienced team going through understandable growing pains. Even with that ugly first half in Chapel Hill, the Wolfpack has now won four of its past five.
“This was an important win for us, to come on the road and win, especially after the last one,” Gottfried said. “It was a good one.”
Lately, N.C. State has found a way to win with rotating point guards – Tyler Lewis made his first start since November on Saturday, ahead of Cat Barber – by riding T.J. Warren, without Warren entirely against Maryland, and for one half Saturday, by doing the one thing everyone knows N.C. State can’t do.
With a full week to prepare for Miami’s zone, the Wolfpack came out firing, going 7-for-12 from 3-point range in the first half, with Ralston Turner hitting four of them. It was an impressive showing for the team that relies less on long-range scoring than any other in the country.
Warren, who spent a good chunk of the first half on the bench in foul trouble, took over the game in the second half on his way to 27 points, making all eight of his free throws while N.C. State went without a field goal for the final 6 1/2 minutes of the game and Miami narrowed what was once a nine-point lead to one thanks to some dominance on the offensive glass.
“Throughout the year, you’re going to have to win some games like this,” Turner said. “Especially with the Carolina loss, it would have been easy to put your head down. We didn’t do that. We pushed through.”
But Akpejiori missed that last free throw, and Washington came down with the rebound, and the video review came up empty, and Washington missed his first free throw unintentionally and the second intentionally, and Brown’s prayer went unanswered.
“We snuck out of here with a win,” Warren said. “That’s the main thing.”
And with that, the Wolfpack exited, to enjoy a moment in the sun before heading home with a priceless win secured.