Fitting, given the circumstances. In an ACC game played on an ACC court, N.C. State was ushered out of the NCAA tournament by two players from the state of North Carolina.
Tarboro’s Montrezl Harrell was Louisville’s best player, dominating N.C. State inside, and Raleigh’s Anton Gill scored all seven of his points in the final seven minutes, essentially to put the game away, add ing up to a cruel twist of fate for the Wolfpack.
The ACC is moving on, but N.C. State is not after a 75-65 loss to Louisville.
Ralston Turner fouled out with 10 seconds to go and moved slowly down the bench accepting hugs as the N.C. State fans applauded. He was only around for two seasons, after transferring from Louisiana State, but he was part of a team that won fans over as it grew and blossomed. It’s over now, but it will not be forgotten.
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The Wolfpack’s regular-season win at Louisville helped get N.C. State into the NCAA tournament, helped turn N.C. State’s season around. The Cardinals won when it really mattered.
The last time the Wolfpack made it this far, the circumstances were completely different. It was Mark Gottfried’s first year, piecing together the wreckage of the Sidney Lowe era, building a team out of the talent Lowe left behind, a job that was as much Walter White as John Wooden, managing the chemistry of that group.
That run was unexpected, from being the last team into the field to coming within a possession of beating Kansas in St. Louis (with North Carolina next). It ended, like so many of State’s seasons that have ended in a regional semifinal, against a juggernaut.
This run was, if not expected, not a surprise. The Wolfpack’s comeback against Louisiana State was a real statement of intent, the win over Villanova a further validation of the Wolfpack’s ability. After all, N.C. State beat better teams than Villanova during the regular season. With Trevor Lacey’s ability to make impossible shots and Cat Barber’s speed and Ralston Turner’s outside shooting, the impossible was always possible with this team.
Unlike Kansas in 2012, N.C. State was the better team Friday, having already beaten the Cardinals in Louisville this season, before the Cardinals lost Chris Jones. But the better team doesn’t always win, a big reason why this tournament is always so entertaining. And so devastating.
Barber was the key to N.C. State’s victory in Louisville, but he started Friday well into do-too-much mode, going 0-for-7 in the first half. In the play that summed up his half, N.C. State had the ball with 32 seconds to go. Gottfried called for one shot.
Barber shook him off, went straight to the rim and missed. But he also got his own rebound, while flat on his back, and fed Ralston Turner for a 3. It also left 21 seconds for Louisville, and Terry Rozier answered with a 3 of his own, a gift possession for the Cardinals.
Not to be outdone, Barber hit two quick 3-pointers of his own to open the second half, but Louisville fed Harrell to jumpstart a 14-2 run and retake the lead. The Wolfpack responded, and led 54-53 with seven minutes to play. That’s when Gill, who played only three minutes in the first half, took over. He had all seven of his points in a 12-3 run that put Louisville back in the lead, and for good.
Harrell finished with 21, a powerful force underneath that N.C. State could never stop.
It was a remarkable run, the wins over Louisiana State and Villanova in Pittsburgh something approaching magical. And for a moment Friday, after a Lacey 3-pointer that put the Wolfpack in its last lead, the magic was back. And then it was gone. And so was N.C. State.
DeCock: email@example.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947