Coach Sendek immediately instilled a high intensity strength and conditioning program. A couple of State players transferred due in part to the standards the new coaching staff were holding players to. Players not on time to team meetings were locked out and players late to 6am workouts suffered the same fate.
Sendek demanded above all that his players give everything on the defensive end of the court. This was evident in his first season as the Pack had the best scoring defense in the country. Offensively State spread people out and milked the shot clock.
State started the ACC season 0-8 but proved it could compete with anyone in the conference. However, competing and being in games isn't enough and frustration started to set in. In a game against top 10 Clemson, Sendek got his first ACC win, 59-56. NCSU finished the second half of the ACC season 4-4 and headed towards its first post-season appearance since 1991.
Sendek lead a group of 5 players to a spot in the ACC Tournament championship game that year after stunning #1 seed Duke and dismissing #5 seed Maryland. A tired Pack eventually lost the championship to eventual final four participant North Carolina 66-56, but gained the respect of everyone in Greensboro Coliseum as fans from every school applauded State's gutsy effort.
NCSU's rag-tag "iron five" without a player of 6'5" made it to the second round of the NIT before losing to West Virginia in front of the loudest crowd I have ever been apart of. Everyone in Reynolds gave the NCSU team a standing ovation in appreciation for their contribution in putting NC State back into the realm of national consciousness.
Recruiting picked up and Coach Sendek signed a pair of highly ranked recruiting classes. Expectations started to build and a NCAA bid was the goal. The Pack suffered an inordinate amount of injuries the next two years and again played in the NIT where they lost in the second round both years.
Sendek's fourth year was targeted by many as the year NCSU would return to the "Dance". That speculation was fueled when NCSU defeated top 15 Purdue and garnered a national ranking for the first time since 1991. State opened ACC play with a thrilling victory of Maryland, finishing the first half of the ACC season 5-3. State could've easily been 7-1 though, if not for a baffling loss to Clemson and a heart-breaking overtime loss in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Confidence that a return to the NCAA Tournament was near was at an all time high. Then the Pack imploded, blowing a 7point lead at Cole Field House, highlighted by a questionable charging call on NCSU forward Damon Thornton, who proceeded to draw a technical foul for arguing the call. NCSU finished the ACC season 1-7 and on the outside looking in as far as an NCAA Tournament was concerned.
State would have to win the ACC Tournament to assure itself of a bid in the NCAA Tournament. After defeating #3 seed UVA, the Pack lost another close game to the same Terps who started State's collapse. The NIT would be the post-season destination for a fourth straight year.
Tomorrow, catch Part 3 of "Decade of Darkness".