We ventured out into the dismal weekend weather, pumped for the game. Unfortunately, I almost missed tip off due to the great parking adventure. This was my first trip ever to L.J.V.M.Coliseum, and I had assumed that it wouldn't be too much different than going to the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Raleigh. Traffic was backed up miles away from the coliseum, and there was no one standing around to direct traffic. We circled around the parking lot just trying to find a single entrance that wasn't blocked. Eventually, we found a spot near Groves stadium and ran through the rain (forgot the umbrella) to the coliseum.
Fortunately, tip off was still a few minutes off so I hadn't missed any of the game. If the Pack could pull out a win against the Deacs, they would attain a third place seed in the A.C.C. tournament and achieve a ten win conference season, which has not been seen since the 1988-89 season. Wake, however, was fighting for the third seed, and they wanted redemption after their loss against Georgia Tech. With so much at stake, this game was sure to be a nail-biter.
The first half was mostly a blur. Wake came out on top at half time, leading 45-36. The many N.C. State fans who had made the trip to Winston-Salem were quiet and dismayed at the Pack's less than stellar performance. Not to mention that the worse had happened, Anthony Grundy finally had an off game. None of his shots seemed to fall in, and the referees would not give him a break by calling a foul (no matter how many players committed one). The Wolfpack has been down before, overcoming a ten point half-time deficit against U.N.C. last week.
At the start of the second half, the Demon Deacon crowd was going wild cheering for their team. I was surprised at this because when I went to the U.N.C. game at the Dean Dome, the only cheers were for the Wolfpack. N.C. State, however, would not go away quietly. Unlike last year's team, the 2001-2002 Wolfpack team plays to the end, living by the "never give up" motto. Many times, State tied up the game or grabbed a small lead. Finally, the Pack fans made their voices heard, especially when Wake went to shoot free throws by shouting "RED, WHITE" from the upper level. Yet, there was still a lot of basketball left to play.
No matter what State did, Wake Forest answered by never falling behind and keeping up with the boys in red. They held Josh Powell to no points, no assists, and no rebounds. Overall, Anthony Grundy only went six for eighteen the entire game. Jordan Collins, Ilian Evtimov, and Marcus Melvin all fouled out in the second half, which harmed N.C. State's play since Melvin had a great game scoring 18 points. With N.C. State taking a beating, the Deacs began to pull away. Herb and the team tried to hold on and win the game by fouling to get the ball back. Even with Wake's poor free throw shooting, State just couldn't make anything happen.
The last game ended with a whimper, not a bang. Will Roach, Michael Bell, and Brian Keeter each got to see some playing time with so many players in foul trouble (mysteriously, Wake and Songalia did not have this problem). Wake Forest managed to shoot 27 out of 37 from the line alone, and their players finished senior day with an 83-71 win over the Wolfpack. Sadly, the Wolfpack lost the game and its number three seed. N.C. State, however, will not be accepting an invitation to the Les Robinson Invitational this year (perhaps more aptly named the Doherty Invitational). They have secured a fourth place seed in the A.C.C. and will be playing the fifth seed on Friday.
Despite the less than spectacular finish to the season, the N.C. State Wolfpack has had its best season in a decade. A 20-9 regular season and a 9-7 conference record will probably garner a bid to the N.C.A.A. tournament, but as Tom Petty once sang, "The waiting is the hardest part." Herb Sendek and the Wolfpack fans have waited many long, hard years for this moment, and the teamwork is about to pay off. The players are ready, the coach is ready, and the fans are ready to dance. All that's needed now is the invitation.