The first critical run came with 9:03 left in the second half after State had just taken a seven-point lead on two free throws by Jordan Vandenberg. Tar Heel point guard Marcus Paige hit back-to-back three-pointers on their next two possessions to cut that lead to one with both shots coming after offensive rebounds.
J.P. Tokoto added a layup to give the Heels a one-point lead and after Desmond Lee answered with a three-pointer Paige came right back down and hit another three-pointer to put UNC back up by two. From that point on both teams exchanged punches, but that spurt seemed to ignite Paige, who up until then had hit just one three-pointer.
"He got hot there late," NC State wing Ralston Turner said of Paige. "He was coming off some screens, we had some some miscommunications and breakdowns."
Paige wasn't the only player on fire because right around the same time T.J. Warren took over for the Wolfpack. Warren hit four-straight baskets late in regulation and knocked down two critical free throws with 1.5-seconds remaining to send the game into overtime.
"With 1.5 on the clock he stepped up there and made two foul shots," Mark Gottfried said of Warren. "He was as cool as a cat. He made so many great plays. It was unbelievable."
Early in overtime, Warren seemed to have given the Pack a nice cushion, as a tough pull-up jumper with 1:34 left gave them an 82-76 lead.
But, UNC made their run.
Paige hit a three-pointer and after Tyler Lewis made 1-of-2 free throws Paige hit two more free throws to cut the lead to two points. Warren then turned the ball over on an inbounds set allowing the Heels to tie it on the ensuing possession on a James McAdoo layup.
NC State came down looking to take the final shot, but Warren was fouled while running through screens along the baseline. He hit 1-of-2 free throws, but the foul left just enough time, 7.7 seconds, for Paige to make one more play... a tough layup over Warren that proved to be the game-winner.
"Paige made a great play, made a great shot," said Gottfried. "He had to put the ball high off the glass."
Warren scored a career-high 36 points in the loss while Paige had a career-high 35 in the victory.
"I just wanted to keep playing hard," said Warren.
It was a brutal loss for a NC State team in desperate need of a signature win. Fighting to get into the NCAA Tournament, the Wolfpack fell to 17-11 and 7-8 in the ACC with zero wins over a Top 50 RPI team.
It was also State's third conference loss where they led with under 10 seconds remaining.
"We've had a couple of near-misses that have been gut-wrenching," said Gottfried. "This one, up at Syracuse... you're right there. I've had teams where all those may go your way... then you have some other times where they make the shot, they make one more play."
The Wolfpack must now get ready for Miami, who comes to Raleigh this weekend.
"I am hurting for our guys right now," Gottfried added. "They laid it on the line and gave everything they could give.
"It's a hard one to take but you have to bounce back and be ready to go for your next game."