"We came out with a chip on our shoulder," freshman forward Kyle Washington said. "We wanted to show the world that we belong in this tournament. We wanted to show the world that we're a good team coming out of the ACC. And we did that."
Washington said the Wolfpack's 74-59 victory wasn't simply the result of an attitude change the past two days. And, he said, their attitude wasn't one they needed to talk themselves into since getting their tournament assignment Sunday night.
"I think our journey through the whole season we kind of developed that because so many teams underestimated us," Washington said.
The Wolfpack (22-13) has been in playoff mode for the past three weeks. They were sitting at 19-12 before winning four straight, including an ACC Tournament win over Syracuse. When they lost to Duke in the ACC semifinals, many thought that meant get ready for the NIT.
"We definitely belong here," Wolfpack star T.J. Warren said. "We're not going to worry about too much what they're saying – continue to play our game and rack up wins."
MAKING HIS POINT
Tyler Lewis continued his development as the Wolfpack's starting point guard over the second half the season. He scored seven points and dished out eight assists. He's started the past 13 games.
"I'm getting a lot more confidence out there," Lewis said. "I just know that running the team and getting everybody else involved is key."
Lewis is third in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio. He had only one turnover against Xavier in 32 minutes.
"Tyler Lewis has shown why everybody had so much hype about him coming to college," senior center Jordan Vandenberg said. "That's probably one of the best games I've seen Tyler play."
Saint Louis IS NEXT
After beating Xavier, the Wolfpack boarded a plane for Orlando where they will play fifth-seeded Saint Louis at 7:20 p.m. Thursday on TNT.
Saint Louis (26-6) won the Atlantic 10 for the second straight season, but failed to win a second straight tournament title when they were knocked out in the quarterfinals by ninth-seeded St. Bonaventure.
The No. 25 Billikens have lost four of their last five after winning 19 straight.
Saint Louis has non-conference losses to Wisconsin and Wichita State. The Billikens best wins were in the Atlantic 10.
"I watched them once or twice this year," State coach Mark Gottfried said. "They are really good."
ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren didn't appear headed for his 24.8 average after picking up two fouls in the first half. He had a quiet nine points at halftime and the Pack led 34-28.
Warren's aggressiveness and ability to run the floor in the second half got him to 25 points on 10-of-18 shooting. He also had five rebounds, two assists and three steals.