Since squandering a 10-point lead against Maryland at home on Feb. 17, N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe has noticed a difference in his team.
There's the obvious difference - the end result with six wins in eight games heading into tonight's second-round NIT game at Alabama-Birmingham - but there's also a more subtle difference.
The Wolfpack is playing tougher. The improved defense, holding the past five teams under 60 points, and ability to win close games - four of the wins have been by six points or less - are both a function of toughness.
For a team that lost seven straight ACC games before the season-ending run, effort wasn't a problem but toughness was. And to Lowe the source of the toughness is easy to identify.
Never miss a local story.
"It's confidence," Lowe said. "Confidence exudes toughness. We look like we're tougher now. I think we're more confident and you're seeing that we're playing tougher."
The Wolfpack certainly didn't panic in the end-game situation at South Florida on Tuesday. Down one point with eight seconds left, freshman Scott Wood fed fellow freshman Richard Howell for the game-winning layup.
Wood was held without a point but he made the game's most important play.
The ability to close out close games has been a trial by fire. The Pack lost to Arizona on a coast-to-coast layup on Dec. 23 and then there was the 62-61 home loss to Florida after Chandler Parsons' 70-footer beat the buzzer on Jan. 3.
In the ACC, N.C. State lost to Clemson 73-70 on Jan. 16 and 73-71 at Georgia Tech on Feb. 6.
"We've played in so many close games," Wood said. "We lost too many of the early ones. We finally learned from our mistakes."
In the ACC tournament, N.C. State beat Clemson by two points and Florida State by six before losing to Georgia Tech by three.
A big difference in the NIT win over USF was the shooting of senior forward Dennis Horner. Faced with impossible matchups in the ACC tournament, Horner was 4-for-21 in Greensboro. He bounced back against USF with a 10-for-16 effort and a season-best 25 points.
Lowe said he wasn't worried about Horner's scoring touch and told him so at the half of the Georgia Tech game. His message was simple: Keep shooting.
Horner's response has been just as simple.
"Dennis realizes that this is it," Lowe said. "He's not ready to stop playing."