Virginia Deals Pack Last-Second Defeat

The Wolfpack overcame a double-digit halftime deficit tonight, but couldn't hold off the Cavaliers at home, falling, 64-62, on a basket by Wahoos freshman Sean Singletary with 2.2 seconds left.

Despite a furious comeback from a 14-point second-half deficit, despite the urgings of a raucous crowd at the RBC Center, despite a breakout performance from freshman Cedric Simmons, NC State was dealt a staggering blow tonight, falling to last-place Virginia, 64-62, at home. The Cavaliers' Sean Singletary tipped in his own missed shot with what appeared to be 1.7 seconds remaining, but after an unsuccessful in-bounds attempt by the Pack's Andrew Brackman, the referees gave the Wolfpack a momentary reprieve. The clock was reset to 2.2 seconds, but another in-bounds by Brackman fell into Wahoo hands, and the Pack suffered its eighth loss in the last 11 games.

Virginia used a stall offense for the entire game, grabbing points in transition when possible, but otherwise milking the shot clock. The tactic appeared to take the Wolfpack by surprise, and the ‘Hoos gained confidence when it appeared that guards Sean Singletary and T.J. Bannister could penetrate at will and either get fouled or find open jump-shooters as the clock wound down. The Wolfpack opened up a 9-2 lead to start the game, but a 14-2 run by the visitors gave the Cavs a 16-11 lead. A four-point play by guard Engin Atsur cut the lead to one point at 16-15, but Virginia controlled the momentum and eventually opened up a 10-point lead, 31-21. A layup from guard Tony Bethel cut the margin to eight, then rookie Gavin Grant was fouled for a one-and-one attempt with 14.9 seconds left. Instead of possibly slicing the deficit to six, Grant misfired on the initial attempt. The Wahoos appeared to turn the ball over on the ensuing possession, but kept the ball on a controversial call. Devin Smith then eluded two Pack defenders to drop in a demoralizing three-pointer at the buzzer for an 11-point halftime lead, 34-23.

At intermission, the statistics were staggering for State. The Wolfpack corralled just five rebounds in the entire half, while the Wahoos controlled points off turnovers (8-2), fastbreak points (9-0) and bench points (13-0). The crowd got even more antsy when a layup by Virginia's Jason Cain pushed the Cavaliers lead to 14, 39-25, with 18:25 remaining, but the Pack answered with a ferocious rally. Running the offense through Simmons, the Wolfpack used an 11-3 run to cut the deficit to six. The ‘Hoos went back up by nine at 45-36, but State reeled off 11 straight points to claim a three-point advantage, 48-45. However, NC State could never gain a comfortable working margin, allowing Virginia to hang around until the deciding moments.

The Pack led by three, 59-56, with three minutes left, but four straight points by Cain put the Cavaliers up, 60-59, with 2:18 remaining. Julius Hodge hit a reverse layup to grab the lead back for the Wolfpack, but Singletary countered with a jumper to put the Wahoos back on top, 62-61, with 1:16 left. Simmons hit one of two free throws to tie the score with 16 seconds remaining, setting the stage for Singletary's winning sequence.

Afterwards, coach Herb Sendek referred to Simmons as perhaps State's lone "silver lining." Making his first career start, he posted a career-best 16 points, adding six rebounds, two assists, a blocked shot and zero turnovers in 30 minutes. He was joined in double-figures by Bethel (20 points, six boards) and Atsur (12 points, three assists), but Hodge never got untracked, finishing with only six points on 2-of-5 shooting, to go with five assists and three steals. Despite a three-guard lineup for most of the game by Virginia, the Wahoos dominated the boards, 33-22, and NC State shot only 34.6 percent (9-26) from the floor and 23.1 percent (3-13) from three-point range in the final 20 minutes. The Pack improved from the charity stripe in the second half, knocking down 18-of-21, but the Cavs countered with 17-of-19 free throws. The visitors were paced by Bannister (14 points), Smith (14), Singletary (11) and Gary Forbes (11).

With a brutal stretch of games looming, Sendek preached the need to quickly put the loss in the past, but the postgame locker room featured all three available players with tears in their eyes, showing just how painful this latest setback was. The Wolfpack fell to 13-9 overall and 3-6 in league play, and despite the recent emergence of Simmons and the return to top form of Bethel, State will have to find immediate solutions in order to salvage a postseason berth in the second half of conference competition.

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