Dorn's career night marred by heartbreaking loss for N.C. State in NIT's quarterfinals

NIT Lipscomb NC State Basketball-4
1 of 3

North Carolina State's Torin Dorn (2) dribbles past Lipscomb's Matt Rose (12) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the quarterfinals of the NIT on Wednesday, March 27, 2019, in Raleigh, N.C. (Travis Long/The News & Observer via AP)

NIT Lipscomb NC State Basketball-3
NIT Lipscomb NC State Basketball-1

Sports Writer

Thursday, March 28, 2019

RALEIGH — Lipscomb had to overcome Torin Dorn, Markell Johnson, an ear-piercing crowd, and some seven decades worth of history at Reynolds Coliseum on Wednesday, plus a dose of Jim Valvano mixed with David Thompson and nostalgia from the older crowd so thick it nearly manifested as dormant cigar smoke from a buried era of N.C. State basketball.

And, somehow, it did all that.

Trailing for most of the of the game but never by much, the Bison, playing against the Wolfpack for a spot in the semifinals of the National Invitational Tournament, shocked a sellout crowd on Wednesday by taking a one-point, 94-93, victory from the Wolfpack, taking for themselves a trip to New York City and Madison Square Garden next week.

After Johnson made a driving layup in the lane to put N.C. State up, 93-92, with seven seconds left, Lipscomb’s Kenny Cooper, who had just hit a 3-pointer to give his team a one-point lead after stealing an inbounds pass on a bad play from Dorn, took the ball about 75 feet up the floor, fading from just outside the right side of the paint and nailing a short jumper that gave his team a one-point lead with 1.7 seconds left.

Shell-shocked, the Wolfpack called timeout and drew up a desperate heave for Johnson, which fell short and gave Lipscomb the victory that would have felt important if it had been played in the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four or in the first game of the preseason.

“I don’t know what PNC (Arena)’s like on a day-to-day basis,” Lipscomb coach Casey Alexander said, “but that was pretty awesome those last four or five minutes — the noise, what we had to play through.”

Dorn, who played the role of hero for so much of the night, finishing with 34 points on 15-of-22 shooting, whose attack on the paint in the first half gave his team a nine-point lead through 20 minutes, left the court with a blank stare once the game was over.

Johnson, who took over for Dorn in the second half, finishing with 19 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 41.6 seconds left to a break a tied game, had a smirk of disbelief and a slow head shake.

“I felt like whoever had the ball last would have the opportunity to win the game,” N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts said. “I thought Markell Johnson made a tremendous play to win the game, and then I thought their point guard did the same thing at the end.”

Cooper’s five points in the final minute were what finally pushed his team over the edge, but the 44 points, the program’s new record for a single game, by Garrison Mathews, were what prevented N.C. State from ever pulling away.

Over the last two games, Mathews had shot just 10-of-29. On Wednesday, he finished 14-of-24 and 8-of-13 from deep.

“I hadn’t been shooting it very well over the last few games, so it was nice to get off to a good start and it continued from there,” Mathews said.

His style became more brash as the game continued. He had 11 shots at the free-throw line, each one becoming more personal between him and the crowd.

“It’s probably something I need to tone down a little bit,” he said. “I was just excited. It keeps it a little bit more fun. (The crowd) did a great job.”

In the end, N.C. State played three NIT games in Reynolds Coliseum. All were close. All brought the kind of environment unique to a carved out and facelifted relic with a capacity of 5,500 people.

In the end, in his final game, Dorn left the court without anything left to give. It was a great final game for the senior marred by a final turnover in the final minute that opened the door for Lipscomb that was one basket from closing shut.

“It’s definitely tough for me. Any loss is tough, because I’m a competitor. I like to win,” Dorn said. “I try to give it all for my teammates. I was more upset for them and hard on myself because I could have made a couple plays down the stretch, and it would have been a little bit different, but that’s life. Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way.”