How Did It Happen?

PITTSBURGH, PA -- A lot had to work in NC State's favor for the Wolfpack to overcome a double-digit deficit to defeat LSU 66-65 in the NCAA Tournament.

The Wolfpack somehow pulled it off.

BeeJay Anya scored his only four points of the game in the final 47 seconds. His astounding tip-in of a Ralston Turner miss cut LSU’s lead to one in the final minute. Anya then completed the comeback with an unlikely left-handed hook shot that went through the net with only one-tenth of a second remaining to hand NC State an improbable, 66-65 win over the Tigers.

The triumph helped the Pack advance to the third round of the NCAA Tournament. Next is a matchup with top-seeded Villanova.

NC State trailed LSU by 16 points in the second half (42-26 with 18:30 remaining) in its NCAA Tournament opener. With less than nine minutes to play, the Wolfpack was behind 62-48 and the Tigers had the ball. To emerge victorious in spite of all that, NC State would need several things to go right and the Pack had virtually no room for error.

So, how did it happen?

NC State had 10 turnovers (compared to only five assists) in the first half. Abdul-Malik Abu committed the Wolfpack’s 11th miscue at the 18:59 mark after intermission. State did not commit a single turnover the rest of the game.

While the Pack didn't really shoot it well, the lack of turnovers in the second half meant NC State was getting attempts on the basket each time down.

LSU bullied NC State on the glass in the first half, out-rebounding the Wolfpack by 10. The offensive boards were particularly galling for State (LSU had eight in the first half), as the Tigers often seemed to throw up shots knowing that the rebound would bring them closer to the basket or allow them to reset the offense.

In the second half, NC State changed that by hauling down 27 rebounds to only 19 for the Tigers. The Wolfpack had 10 offensive boards after the break, and it led to 11 second-chance points in the second half.

Wolfpack players, coaches, and fans cut a forlorn figure after last season’s collapse against St. Louis in Orlando. If there is any school that is in the position to have empathy for LSU, it is NC State.

The Tigers went 8-17 from the free throw line in the second half. That stat, however, does not articulate just how woeful LSU was from the line in the critical moments.

Jarrell Martin’s free throw at the 9:15 mark gave the Tigers a 14-point advantage. After the Wolfpack began its rally, Martin converted a pair from the charity stripe with exactly five minutes left to give LSU a six-point lead.

Tim Quarterman made the first of two with 3:59 to go. That was it. No more free throws for the Tigers and, for that matter, no more points scored either.

LSU missed its final six free throws while NC State only mustered eight points over the final five minutes of the contest but it was just enough to get the win.

In the first half, LSU made 17 field goals (36 attempts). After the intermission, the Tigers went 7-for-24 (29.2 percent).

Martin hit a jumper with 10:26 remaining to give LSU a 12-point advantage. Again, that was it. The Tigers did not hit another shot.

LSU was 50 percent from the floor after Martin’s shot but finished 40 percent after missing its final 12 attempts from the field. The shots they took weren't bad, but the results were. Several shots did not even come close as a LSU team that was scoring in the lane on fast breaks wilted in the second half in a remarkably plodding manner.

In summary, LSU missed its last 12 shots and six free throws. If the Tigers simply make one, defeat would almost be certain for NC State.

Trevor Lacey struggled for the second straight game. After scoring only four points in NC State’s ACC Tournament loss to Duke, Lacey went 4-for-15 from the floor and finished with nine points against LSU.

NC State has a trio that combines to average around 41 points per game. On Thursday, the Wolfpack had three players who tallied 40, but Lacey was not a member of the triumvirate against LSU.

Abu was the Pack’s second-leading scorer with 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting. His points were evenly spaced (seven before halftime and six points after). The freshman has only reached double figures in scoring five times this season.

To put it succinctly, Abu’s contribution kept NC State within a stone’s throw of the Tigers. Without it, the Wolfpack likely would have not had enough time to complete the rally.

The 6’9” sophomore had only played 52 minutes in the last eight games for the Wolfpack, including two contests in which he did not appear at all. He gave NC State a much-needed spark off the bench. It is obvious that he kept himself ready despite the lack of playing time down the stretch.

Washington scored nine points on 4-for-5 shooting and hauled in four rebounds. He even earned a critical assist with 4:28 to play when he whipped a pass to Abu for a dunk that cut NC State’s deficit to four points.

Before his pass to Abu, Washington had scored five straight points. His offensive rebound and dunk follow of a Cat Barber miss had an effect on both teams. The ensuing three-pointer he hit a half-minute later (his first three-pointer since February 11th and only seventh made shot from behind the arch this season) moved the Pack to within four points... amping up the pressure on the Tigers.

The junior-college transfer almost certainly has not had the senior campaign that he envisioned over the summer. Lee started 19 games as a junior and actually scored his career-high of 24 points in his first game with NC State in the 2013-14 season. In his final year of eligibility, Lee has only averaged 7.6 minutes per game entering the NCAA Tournament and has not appeared in a game eight times. His average will go down, as Lee only played five minutes against LSU, but his contribution over that period was significant.

Lee hauled in three rebounds, which is no small feat considering LSU had 13 offensive rebounds in the game and scored 15 second-chance points. The Tigers also had 10 fastbreak points with turnovers and poor shot selection from NC State the root of the problem, but had none after intermission.

It is also worth noting that Lee entered the contest with NC State trailing by 13 at the 9:39 mark in the second half. It was part of a mass four-player substitution from head coach Mark Gottfried that had a "roll the dice" feel to it.

It worked.

The string of consecutive field goals missed began in earnest after Lee checked in. Quarterman hurt the Wolfpack with an out-of-character 17 points, but only one of those came after Lee checked in. In fact, the Tigers did not make a field goal the rest of the way after Gottfried gambled on a lineup that included Lee and Washington.

After Anya’s game-winner, perhaps the most endearing moment came when Lee burst onto the court, smiling broadly, and was one of the first players to meet and celebrate with the hero. He was crestfallen on his Senior Day when he did not get back into the game late but was at the ACC Tournament preparing diligently and joking with a security guard while warming up prior to the Pittsburgh game in Greensboro. If ever there has been a player that deserved to smile and the chance to play another game in the NCAA Tournament, it is Desmond Lee.

With a minute remaining in game, Anya was scoreless with only one shot from the field. His final stat line was four points on 2-for-3 shooting in 18 minutes.

Timing is everything in life.

Anya’s two baskets run the gamut from highly unlikely to downright stunning. As remarkable as it was that he scored NC State’s final two baskets, and his only two, the manner with which it occurred will be remembered by Wolfpack Nation for ages.

Many coaches would not have inserted Anya in the game late. The sophomore had six rebounds at that point but had spent the game in foul trouble. Given Washington’s role in the Wolfpack surge, it seemed like a questionable decision from Gottfried to remove him for Anya with NC State needing points.

The move did pay off. NC State has a game on Saturday and Wolfpack Nation has memories for a lifetime after Anya’s exploits on Thursday.

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