One Amazing Ride
Not long ago the Wolfpack was losing in overtime to Clemson, capping a four-game losing streak that seemed destined to place the Pack on the wrong side of the bubble and into the NIT. It didn't look like a disappointing year, it was still above the expectations of an 8th place league finish, but it was disappointing in the sense that the Pack had shown flashes of brilliance at times.
Then the last few weeks happened, and those flashes turned into long sustained periods of fantastic basketball. The Pack played like the best team in the ACC for the entire month of March, coming a few bad calls away from beating UNC in the ACC tournament and one or two plays away from beating Kansas on Friday night and advancing to the Elite Eight.
It was really an amazing journey both for the teams and the fans. Depending on who returns to the Pack next year, head coach Mark Gottfried could have one of the best collections of talent in Raleigh in a very long time.
Hanging Around to the End
NC State was down 10 with seven minutes left, down eight with four minutes left and trailed for pretty much the entire second half. Yet they battled, got stops when nothing was going right on offense and clawed its way to a position to win the game. They had three separate possessions in the final 30 seconds with a shot to either win or tie the game and while the Pack came up empty each time, just getting to that point was an impressive feat.
Late Game Execution
It's tough to really recount how many chances the Pack had to take control of the game in the final seconds, but let's try. With 30 seconds left Gottfried called a timeout and set up a shot for Wood, a shot that seemed a bit hurried but was still a good look. Leslie managed to board the miss but instead of kicking it out and resetting (at this point the Pack could have taken the last shot), he tried to go into the teeth of the Kansas defense and missed.
The Pack fouled with 16 seconds left and sent Kansas to the line shooting one-and-one. The first free throw missed so badly that Howell couldn't get his hands on it and deflected it out of bounds. The Pack then managed to give up a wide open lay-up on the inbounds to push the lead to three and turnover the ensuing possession.
Somehow the Pack was granted one last chance when Kansas missed another front end of a one-and-one and Wood grabbed the rebound. The Pack inbounded to Howell who heaved a desperation shot with Wood wide open five feet away. Howell presumably didn't think he had time, but the 2.9 was more than enough to pass to Wood and let him shoot. The horn sounded and NC State was sent back home to Raleigh.
Struggles Around The Rim
It wasn't unexpected, but NC State's post players had big-time issues finishing at the rim against Kansas' lengthy front line. The Pack shot 28 percent from inside the arc and Kansas center Jeff Withey finished with 10 blocks as both Howell and Leslie struggled to gets shots over his 7-foot frame. The Pack actually shot slightly better on 3-pointers than 2-pointers, but attempted more than twice as many shots inside the arc.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Hopefully this is not the last time we can give it to CJ Leslie. The sophomore forward was in deep foul trouble in the second half which put him on the bench for large stretches, but he was very good in the 24 minutes he was in the game. Leslie hit 7-of-16 shots, one of the few players who shot even remotely well for the Pack, while grabbing four rebounds and hitting 4-of-6 from the line. The Pack needed more of Leslie on the floor, but a very questionable fourth foul call early in the 2nd half kept that from happening.
STAT OF THE GAME
Kansas had 26 second-chance points on 20 offensive rebounds. While NC State actually had more offensive boards, they missed so many chip-shots inside that they finished with just 16 points in that category. In a game that came down to the final possession, the Pack's inability to finish off those second chances made the difference.