Inside Sports

Instead of storybook finish, NC State puts postseason hopes in jeopardy

NC State’s Kevin Keatts talks about how the loss to Georgia Tech might affect NCAA Tournament chances

NC State coach Kevin Keatts talks about how the loss to Georgia Tech Wednesday, March 6, 2019, might affect the Wolfpack's chances of getting into the NCAA Tournament.
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NC State coach Kevin Keatts talks about how the loss to Georgia Tech Wednesday, March 6, 2019, might affect the Wolfpack's chances of getting into the NCAA Tournament.

It was all so unforgivable, and the damage is real. Not only did N.C. State manage to spoil Torin Dorn’s senior night, mere seconds after he’d hit what might have been the game-winner as if it was scripted, the Wolfpack opened the door to the unthinkable.

With Wednesday’s home loss to Georgia Tech, N.C. State has managed to slide from a relatively secure NCAA tournament position to a precarious position so deep on the bubble that even a minor upset in some mid-major tournament elsewhere – even in a really bad conference, like the Pac-12 – could send the Wolfpack to the NIT.

Not all because the Wolfpack lost track of the biggest player on the court on the game’s last play, but that was a big part of it

Moments after Dorn hit a clutch 3-pointer with 6.1 seconds to go to put N.C. State in the lead, the Wolfpack let Jose Alvarado tear up the court on Georgia Tech’s final play – inexcusable – and feed a wide-open James Banks III under the basket for a dunk, also inexcusable.

You have to give the Wolfpack credit for going the full nine when it comes to self-immolation. It didn’t get beat on some prayer. Not only did N.C. State give up an open dunk to lose, it fouled the guy and lost 63-61 when C.J. Bryce’s desperation shot rimmed out.

They lost it. On the dunk.

N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts talks about the Wolfpack's loss to Georgia Tech at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., Wednesday, March 6, 2019.

Not that N.C. State ever should have been in that position, playing down to the level of the Yellowjackets, fiddling with their hybrid zone instead of attacking it. Moses Wright, a sophomore from Enloe High, scored 18 points as the Wolfpack let Georgia Tech hang around, leaving an 0-for-8 Braxton Beverly on the court for most of the second half while Bryce sat, albeit not any hotter at 1-for-8. Blake Harris, who at least might have been able to defend, never got the chance.

This was a must-win, should-win game that N.C. State turned into a coin flip. And lost.

Dorn deserved better than this. His career hasn’t been easy or smooth. He suffered through the dismal final year of the Mark Gottfried era after transferring from Charlotte and has been the heart and soul of the Wolfpack during his final two seasons, maybe not N.C. State’s most talented player but its most versatile and hardest-working despite that 0-3 record in the postseason.

His career has crossed boundaries, the son and brother of North Carolina football players, and his brother Myles wore a No. 2 State jersey Wednesday, putting family ahead of the rivalry.

It wasn’t the best game of Dorn’s career. He missed a key 3-pointer with three minutes to go and had a shot blocked in the final minute, but the ball was in his hands when it mattered and he delivered when it mattered, only for everything to fall apart on the last play.

NC State's Devon Daniels talks about the disappointment of not being able to get the victory on Torin Dorn's senior night after the Wolfpack's loss to Georgia Tech at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., Wednesday, March 7, 2019.

Even though it feels like N.C. State’s NCAA tournament chances fell apart as well, that emotion is still running ahead of reality. The Wolfpack’s tournament resume isn’t the best – only two Quandrant 1 wins, and this Quadrant 3 loss – but the bubble does not exist in a vacuum, to mix metaphors.

As unimpressive as N.C. State’s qualifications may be, they’re still better than, say, Arizona State or St. John’s or Indiana or any of the other unimpressive power-conference teams in similar positions. They have to take 36 at-large teams. N.C. State would still be one of them. For now.

Whatever wiggle room was there evaporated Wednesday, a detour to Dayton is in play and the unthinkable is on the horizon. N.C. State couldn’t afford to lose this game and it can’t afford to lose at Boston College on Saturday and it can’t afford to lose to Clemson in Charlotte on Wednesday, if that’s indeed how the bracket shakes out.

Keep this up, and an upset in the MAC or the SoCon or the Pac-12 could knock the Wolfpack out entirely, and at this point N.C. State would have no one to blame but itself.

There would be no excuse for that but there was no excuse for losing to Georgia Tech. Dorn deserved better and N.C. State will get what it deserves in the postseason, whatever that turns out to be.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock has covered the Summer Olympics, the Final Four, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He joined The News & Observer in 2000 to cover the Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a columnist in 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has won multiple national and state awards for his columns and feature writing while twice being named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.
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