Desperation Time

After North Carolina State couldn't maintain the momentum it built up with a fast-closing run at the end of the first half and fell 87-80 at Maryland, senior Tracy Smith acknowledged the obvious regarding the Wolfpack's future.

"We have to win the ACC tournament to get to where we want to go," Smith told the Raleigh News & Observer.

Where the 'Pack "wants to go" is the NCAA Tournament. N.C. State last played in the tournament in 2006, Herb Sendak's last year as the Wolfpack coach.

With a 14-12 overall record and a 4-8 slate in the ACC following the loss to the Terrapins, however, the 'Pack not only is out of picture for an at-large bid to the 68-team NCAA field but even has put its NIT hopes in jeopardy.

The one saving grace for the Wolfpack is that of their four remaining games, three of them are at home and the lone road trip is to Virginia, another 4-8 team.

North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Florida State all must come to Raleigh before the ACC tourney opens in Greensboro, N.C., next month.

The Wolfpack had a chance, a very good chance, to steal a win at Maryland, going on a 14-0 run late in the first half to go to the locker room with a 40-38 lead at the intermission.

The 'Pack continued to lead through the opening minutes of the second half and were on even terms with the Terps until the two teams reached a 71-71 tie with 7:48 remaining.

The Terps then went on an 8-0 run that eventually led to an nine-point difference with less than two minutes remaining.

The 'Pack was never closer than seven points after that and trailed by 11 with less than a minute to play.

-- The loss to Maryland on Feb. 20 snapped a modest two-game winning streak for North Carolina State and dropped the Wolfpack into a tie for eighth place in the conference with Miami and Virginia through games of Feb. 20. The Wolfpack already has a win over Miami and could earn the tiebreaker over the other two for league tournament seedings if it can beat the Cavaliers in Charlottesville on March 1.

-- Though only 4-8 in the conference through Feb. 20, North Carolina State already has a two-game improvement over where the Wolfpack was after 12 ACC games last season. The 'Pack was only 2-10 in 2009-10 but won three of its final four outings of the regular season, then won two games in the ACC Tournament. A similar finish would make the 'Pack 19-14 when postseason bids are issued.

-- N.C. State publicists are touting freshman F C.J. Leslie for ACC Rookie of the Year honors. After scoring 18 points in the loss at Maryland, Leslie was averaging 13.4 points and 6.8 rebounds a game in 11 ACC games. He did not play against Duke while serving a one-game suspension.

BY THE NUMBERS: 0-11 -- N.C. State's record when trailing at the 5:00-minute mark of games following the defeat at Maryland.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Something I've been talking about the last few weeks is how we've been playing so well together. During those last seven minutes, though, some of our guys were just trying to play one-on-one, whether it was outside or in the post." -- Coach Sidney Lowe, on his team's fade at the end of the loss at Maryland.

-- vs. North Carolina, Feb. 23

The Wolfpack is going to need more than the 12 points and three rebounds it got out of senior F Tracy Smith in the first meeting, which the Tar Heels won by 20 in Chapel Hill. Smith also fouled out. He and freshman F C.J. Leslie will be working against the Tar Heels John Henson and Tyler Zeller inside.

-- vs. Georgia Tech, Feb. 26
Tech can be a problem on the perimeter where it has guards Iman Shumpert and Glen Rice scoring in double figures. The 'Pack figures to have its way inside with Smith and Leslie.

Sophomore G Scott Wood has been the only player who has started every game for the Wolfpack this season, though coach Sidney Lowe has sent the same five out to start the last three games. That would be F Tracy Smith, who likely would have started every game were it not for a knee injury that sidelined him nine games; F C.J. Leslie, who was suspended for one game; G Ryan Harrow, G Lorenzo Brown, and Wood. That lineup looks to be good the rest of the way.

-- Freshman G Lorenzo Brown scored only eight points but also had eight assists to go with his points against Maryland on Feb. 20. Brown has 24 assists over his last four games.

-- Senior F Tracy Smith scored a team-high 19 points against the Terps, his third consecutive game in double figures. He has had at least 10 points in all but two of his appearances, including a four-point production against East Carolina when he injured his knee early. He also scored only four points at Duke.

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