North Carolina State turned its late-season surge into its first trip to the postseason in three years.
The Wolfpack (19-15) earned a No. 6 seed in the 32-team NIT field and will travel to No. 3 seed South Florida on Tuesday night. It's a sign of welcome progress for Sidney Lowe's program, which hadn't been to the postseason since reaching the third round of the NIT in his first season and has finished near the bottom of the Atlantic Coast Conference in each season since.
After the team's surprise run to the ACC semifinals in Greensboro, Lowe said he thought it deserved a berth in the NIT.
"I think it would be great just for these guys to say, 'You've earned this,'" Lowe said. "We tell our kids all the time that if you work hard and do the right things, you're going to be rewarded. I think that it would be a great reward."
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N.C. State looked like it was going nowhere after losing seven straight ACC games, which had only increased the pressure on Lowe to turn things around after inheriting a program that had been to five straight NCAA tournaments. But the Wolfpack won three of its final four to close the regular season, then upset sixth-seeded Clemson and third-seeded Florida State in the ACC tournament before falling in the semifinals to Georgia Tech.
N.C. State also upset Duke — which won the ACC tournament and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament — in January, while wins against league opponents Florida State and Wake Forest came when both teams were ranked.
"Our guys fought hard," junior Tracy Smith said. "We never hung our head even though we had our ups and downs this season. We never gave up. ... We came out and proved (critics) wrong and kept fighting."