RALEIGH – After playing down to its competition for nearly the entire season, N.C. State almost sank to a new low Saturday.
Facing Atlantic Coast Conference bottom feeder Virginia Tech, winners of just two conference games, the Wolfpack needed overtime to avoid losing its sixth game in the past month.
Instead of folding late like N.C. State had done in losses to Maryland and Miami, the Wolfpack pushed through in the extra period to a 90-86 victory inside PNC Arena.
“It wasn’t the prettiest win, but at the end of the day that’s what it was – an important win for our team,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said.
Ahead by three points with eight seconds to play, Gottfried made the call for N.C. State (18-7, 7-5 ACC) to foul Virginia Tech point guard Erick Green. Gottfried wasn’t going to allow the Hokies (11-14, 2-10) to attempt a 3-pointer.
They had made nine up to that point.
Green made the first free throw and intentionally missed the second. Virginia Tech’s perfectly executed play took N.C. State forwards T.J. Warren and Richard Howell away from the right side of the lane and allowed Jarell Eddie to tie the game with a putback.
“We were stunned a little bit,” said Gottfried, who said he would have fouled again if given another chance. “We felt like we had the game in hand. Our guys were able to regroup, get mentally focused back in, and I thought in overtime, they played really well. It certainly could have gone the other way. I thought our guys showed a lot of toughness.”
N.C. State never pulled away from Virginia Tech – leading by five points at the most in the extra period – but still managed to control play.
The Wolfpack scored on six of its nine possessions and knocked down 7-of-8 free throws in the final 51.8 seconds.
“It happens,” N.C. State forward Scott Wood said of the final shot in regulation. “It’s basketball, you just have to find a way to bounce back.”
The game was never in hand, but Wolfpack point guard Lorenzo Brown’s defensive effort in the extra period kept the Wolfpack in position to secure a first-round bye in the ACC Tournament.
Brown spent the entire second half covering Green, his good friend.
Green, the leading scorer in the country at 25.2 points per game, finished with 29 points, but it was Brown’s late steal that ensured the Wolfpack’s win.
In the final 18 seconds of overtime, Brown turned to Green and politely requested that he stop using the spin move that had been hurting the N.C. State defense.
Green didn’t use the spin.
Instead, he went to the crossover, lost control and allowed Brown to scoop up the loose ball. Brown knocked down two free throws as N.C. State finished 31-for-43 from the free-throw line.
Virginia Tech attempted just seven shots from the line.
Six players finished in double figures for N.C. State, led by Wood’s 22. Brown finished with 15 points and seven assists, while Howell recorded a double-double (10 points and 16 rebounds).
Just minutes after N.C. State almost suffered its worst loss of the season, to the ACC’s worst team, it rebounded in a way it hadn’t done much before this season in the face of adversity.
“You better win your way into everything,” Gottfried said. “You better win your way into the tournament. You can’t sit back and wait for everyone else to lose. You have to win. You have to be who you are and be good enough.”
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or email@example.com