No one was prepared for what would happen in Tallahassee.
After a rollercoaster of emotions the previous week against Duke and North Carolina at home, NC State held on, both literally and figuratively, to gut out a, 72-63, win over Florida State inside Tucker Center to improve to 13-6 on the season and 4-2 in league play. The Pack used a “next man up” mentality to stave off defeat after the Seminoles rallied from 17 points down to tie the contest at 60 with exactly four minutes remaining.
Prior to the game, as the Wolfpack was loosening up, Anthony Barber remained in street clothes. Rumors swirled as to if and why Barber would not play. NC State tweeted less than an hour before tip that its starting point guard would in fact likely be sitting the game out.
Early on Saturday, Barber received word that a close family friend passed away. Still grief-stricken when the team met to eat breakfast before traveling to the Tucker Center to face the Seminoles, Barber spoke candidly to NC State head coach Mark Gottfried.
“I appreciate Cat,” Gottfried said after the victory. “He was still grieving in a big way. He just said ‘I don’t want to hurt our team and so it might be better for me not to play.’ I appreciate that about him.”
“I think our guys stepped up and rallied.”
With Barber out, and the NC State offense struggling in the second half, the game had all the characteristics of a train wreck for Gottfried’s team. In a methodical manner, Florida State reeled the Pack in and seemed poised to take over in the game’s final minutes.
Then NC State’s two leaders stepped up.
With the game tied, Ralston Turner hit a three-pointer after NC State had three offensive rebounds on the possession to give the Wolfpack the lead.
“Coach Lutz tells us all the time to play to win,” Turner said. “I realized someone needed to step up. I just try to find spots and get going.”
The Seminoles refused to fold. With the game still in doubt, Turner fouled out with 1:36 left and Florida State cut the deficit to two after a made free throw.
The next man up for NC State was Trevor Lacey, who started at point guard for Barber. He hit two free throws and then followed by a massive jump shot to extend the Pack’s advantage to six points with only 31 seconds remaining to seal the win.
“Going down the stretch, we were just stalling and trying to milk the clock,” Lacey said. “We were going to take the best available shot. I have built a trust this season where I can go on my defender one-on-one. Coach told me to go make a play.”
With the recent three-game stretch of Virginia, Duke and North Carolina now in its rear-view mirror, it would seem to some that NC State is now in a soft portion of its conference schedule.
Gottfried knows better.
“We are happy to win,” Gottfried said. “It doesn’t matter who you are playing in this league, wins are hard to get. We have had a tough, emotional couple of weeks with some games, but everybody does. We don’t need to be whining about it.”
“Those [three games against ranked opponents] were hard, but the ones after them aren’t easy. They are all hard. Today was no different.”
NC State will hope the resiliency to overcome both the loss of its point guard and a big lead on the road is a harbinger of things to come. While the brutal stretch against ranked opponents may be over, the Pack will get no respite from the remaining two-thirds of the conference season. The hard part is just beginning.