NOTEBOOK: Optimistic Outlook

ORLANDO, FL -- Even as the sting of Thursday night's loss sank in, Wolfpack players could speak with a sense of satisfaction about the team's growth and what lies ahead.

Even as the sting of Thursday night's loss sank in, Wolfpack players could speak with a sense of satisfaction about the team's growth and what lies ahead.

"Nobody expected us to be here in the first place," Turner said. "I think our team pretty much exceeded a lot of expectations that anybody ever had for us."

Coach Mark Gottfried faced a major rebuilding project from last year's 24-win team. Warren and Lewis are sophomores, complemented by four freshmen who played major minutes, a junior college transfer, a high-major transfer playing his first year in Raleigh, and an inexperienced senior.

According to stats guru Ken Pomeroy, the Wolfpack ranked 330th in the nation in player experience.

"I wish it could have turned out different, but overall I'd say it was a pretty good season," Lewis said. "Nobody expected anything of us, and we proved everybody wrong. I just wish it could have happened to go [longer]."

Don't forget, the Wolfpack might have been one free throw from getting another game in the NCAAs.

"With a few different bounces of the ball out there, we'd still be playing," Turner said. "It's hard to look at right now, but we can be proud of this year."

The Wolfpack's lone scholarship senior, center Jordan Vandenberg, is optimistic about the future of the program.

"This was just a season of growth," said Vandenberg. "No one expected anything from us. To do what we did in the ACC Tournament to even be here is an accomplishment for this team.

"We have a bunch of young players, and as long as most of them come back next year with the players they have coming in, they'll be a good team."

St. Louis' finishing frenzy also coincided with a switch to a full-court press. It seemed an act of desperation at the time, but the Wolfpack never fully solved it.

On far too many occasions, Barber and fellow guard Tyler Lewis found themselves flirting with a halfcourt violation as they scrambled to find an open man.

"I just felt like everything was compact," said Lewis, who was charged with seven turnovers on the night. "They have a good press."

Said Warren: "They were physical. We kind of panicked under pressure a little bit. We made a few errors and they capitalized off that."

Here's the kicker, though – the Billikens rarely press, and admitted to simply improvising it as they went along.

"It was really impressive on [our] part, because we've never practiced it," Billikens coach Jim Crews said. "I don't think we've ever practiced it once in three years that I've been at St. Louis.

"You shouldn't do things you never practice, but we were in a position where we had to do that."

Though N.C. State's last-team-in status required that Tuesday game in Dayton, the Wolfpack players weren't interested in any suggestion that the added travel may have hindered them down the stretch.

"I highly doubt that," Vandenberg said. "We're shooting foul shots; it has nothing to do with fatigue. It has everything to do with repetition and we just didn't finish.

"We're not going to make up excuses that we're too tired or the lights are too bright. We're much bigger than that."

Even so, there's no way around the fact that the Thursday's game was N.C. State's fifth in a seven-day span, going back to the ACC Tournament. But the Wolfpack seemed to have the game in hand with five minutes left in regulation.

"We had it in the last 10 minutes," Turner said. "We should have done a better job of finishing the game."

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