The Wolfpack has withstood rallies in each of its wins against ranked opponents and was particularly efficient in the final minutes, a stark contrast to the collapse against St. Louis in the NCAA Tournament that now seems like a thousand years ago.
There is also a synergy with the ranked teams NC State has defeated and the path the Wolfpack must take to win titles. Louisville, the new kids on the block in the ACC, won a national title in 2013 and is a school with the financial wherewithal to win in every sport—and it does. Duke and North Carolina are the local schools that have bullied State in basketball since the end of Jim Valvano’s coaching tenure in 1990.
Each conference game is worth the same in the standings but the Pack must stand up to those schools in particular. This season, NC State did.
After the Duke game this season, as often in the rare cases over the last several years when NC State has gotten a win over the Blue Devils or North Carolina, the Wolfpack did not handle prosperity well. The funk that fell over State after its win against its rivals from Durham has know been replaced by a confidence coupled with a determination not to lose its hard fought gains over the past two weeks.
“Sometimes, when you play a lot of young guys, they need time,” Gottfried said. “Guys need time to get better and develop and grow. We rely on a lot of young players. I just think we’re growing up, getting a little better.
“We’re not done. Obviously, we go on the road [Saturday at Boston College] and it’s not going to be easy. There’s no easy game, so we’ve got to be able to handle a good win and go and play the next game—and that’s something a young team has to learn how to do better.”
North Carolina trailed NC State by 16 points early in the second half on Tuesday but, spurred by a 16-2 run over a seven-plus minute span, made a push to close the gap to two with less than 11 minutes remaining.
Ralston Turner, who has spent the last few weeks battling injuries and a shooting slump, hit a three-pointer at the 10:40 mark to give NC State some breathing room and buried another from behind the arc with five minutes left to quell another Tar Heel rally.
While happy to get a win over NC State’s rival, Turner also preached calm afterwards.
“I definitely understand how special it is,” Turner said of NC State’s first win at UNC since 2003. “As sweet as it is, we still can’t hang on this win. We still have three more tough games left. It’d be easy to think this has made our season and drop the rest so we just have to be mature about the situation.”
Turner and Gottfried are correct.
NC State has been a bubble team for a couple of years now. To reach the next level meant going through North Carolina at some point. The next step is expanding on success instead of clinging to it.