Remembered for its heart, its never-say-die attitude, its ability to claw its way back into every game it played in the month of March. Fans won't forget the red jacket or the ACC Tournament run that almost got the Wolfpack to the NCAAs.
But Tuesday night, the unforgettable story came to a very forgettable ending. West Virginia put and end to State's magical March run, defeating the Wolfpack 71-66 in the quarterfinals of the NIT in Morgantown. The Mountaineers advance to Madison Square Garden, where they will face Mississippi State in the NIT semifinals.
The Pack (20-16) had two separate chances in the last 30 seconds to tie the game but failed to convert on either opportunity. On the first try, Courtney Fells got an open look on the left wing but barely managed to hit the rim as the ball bounced into the hands of the Mountaineers (25-9).
But West Virginia missed the front end of a one-and-one on its ensuing possession, giving the Pack one more chance with 17 seconds left. Following an NC State timeout, the Pack had trouble just getting the ball in bounds and ended up settling for a contested 3-pointer from Gavin Grant that missed badly to effectively end the game.
The loss marks the end a successful inaugural season for Sidney Lowe. The first-year coach guided a Wolfpack team picked to finish last in the ACC to a 10th place finish despite the loss of senior point guard Engin Atsur for two months of the season.
Lowe saved his best work for the month of March, where he orchestrated three wins in three days to get the Pack to the ACC Championship game, then won two more games in the NIT before losing on Tuesday. The Wolfpack went 5-2 in postseason play after a 15-14 regular season record.
Brandon Costner led the Wolfpack with another double-double, scoring 22 points on 7-of-14 shooting and pulling down 13 rebounds. Atsur, playing his final game for the Wolfpack, finished with 14 points and Grant added 12.
The Pack, which had been shooting over 50 percent during its improbable run, shot just 37 percent for the game. The Mountaineer defense frustrated Ben McCauley all night, as the sophomore faced immediate double-teams every time he touched the ball. McCauley finished with just four points on 2-of-8 shooting.
West Virginia's Frank Young led all scorers with 25 points as the senior hit six 3-pointers, half of the 12 makes the Mountaineers had from beyond the arc. West Virginia finished the game hitting 50 percent of its 3-pointers and was 48 percent from the field overall.
The Mountaineers jumped out to a quick lead on the Wolfpack to start the game, leading by as much as eight with five minutes left in the half. West Virgina shot 43 percent from the field compared to an ice-cold 33 percent for the Wolfpack. The Pack also turned the ball over nine times in the half.
But the Pack held the Mountaineers scoreless for the last three minutes of the game, cutting the lead to 28-26 at the half. State held its own by dominating the glass, pulling down 22 boards in the half while Virginia managed just 11 rebounds.
The teams continued to trade baskets to start the second half. The Wolfpack took a 34-33 lead at the 17:00 mark, an advantage that lasted all of 17 seconds before West Virginia hit a 3-pointer to reclaim the advantage. Those 17 seconds marked the first time in the entire NIT that the Mountaineers had trailed an opponent.
The Pack kept taking the lead from the Mountaineers in the second half only to watch West Virginia immediately retake the advantage. On four separate occasions the Pack took the lead on one possession and Virginia retook the lead on the ensuing possession. When the Pack finally managed to grab a four-point lead with four minutes left in the game, Frank Young answered with back-to-back 3-pointers to take the lead for good.