With the game tied at 81 in overtime, Mays held the ball at the top of the key as the seconds dwindled down. Dennis Horner was supposed to come set a ball screen but was jammed up on the play and Mays was left with forward Brian Asbury defending him. Asbury relaxed a bit, and Mays rose up and hit a deep 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds left that won the game for the Wolfpack.
"We were running a play for Dennis to pop back and Ben to cut through," said Mays. "The man denied Dennis, and it left me out there with a big guy. I just did what I do... took a couple of dribbles and pulled up on him.
"I knew it wasn't going to be short. It was either going to be long or roll in-and-out, but it went right in."
The 6-foot-2 freshman guard has shown the ability to knock down shots in practice, and now he has a college game-winner under his belt.
"When we walked into the locker room, the coaches, we just looked at each other... he does it every day," said head coach Sidney Lowe. "He does it in practice, he does. He makes big shots, game-winning shots in practice... he's got great poise in a tough situation.
"If you back off of him he's not afraid to shoot it, and he shoots it with confidence."
"He's been making big plays for us all year," added senior wing Courtney Fells. "You might not have seen it on the court, but we've seen it in practice. He does that all the time. I think that builds his confidence up, and he was able to knock the shot down for us tonight."
What made the shot even more impressive was the fact that Mays had played sparingly in the second half and had just entered the game in the last minute of overtime.
This wasn't the first time Mays came through in the final seconds for his team after sitting out an extended period of time. During his junior season at Marion (IN) High School, the Giants faced a rival team in the regional championship game. Mays came through that time as well, but he admits this shot was probably even bigger.
"It was against our rival school in high school, Muncie Central," said Mays. "It was a regional game, and I started cramping. I went out for some time, and when I came back in I hit a game-winning fadeaway. It was kind of the same situation.
"This one feels way better because it's on the college level, it was a conference game, and we were in desperate need of a win... this one was more exciting."
Establishing A Lineup, Rotation
After having success playing a bigger lineup in the second half against Boston College, Lowe opened versus Miami with that same unit. Farnold Degand, Ben McCauley, Courtney Fells, and Brandon Costner are regular starters, but the insertion of 6'8 forward Tracy Smith into the lineup added more size and another rebounder into the mix.
With Smith on the floor, Fells slid back to shooting guard and Costner played an extended amount of time at small forward. Lowe likes what he has seen from the group.
"We tried to stay as big as we could throughout the game," said Lowe. "Even when we brought Dennis in, we let [him] run the four and kept Brandon at the three spot."
Costner, a combo forward capable of playing either position, isn't fazed by the notion of seeing more time at small forward.
"I don't see what the big fuss is about," he said. "I was recruited to play small forward... everybody seems to be making a big deal of it... it really isn't a big deal to me."
With what appears to be a starting lineup in place, Lowe also wants to cut back his rotation. For much of the season he has played 10 or 11 players.
In fact, 11 have started games this season and 12 are averaging 10+ minutes per game with no one averaging over 30 minutes a night. In Tuesday's win, just seven players played double-figure minutes, and four of the five starters totaled 30-plus minutes led by Ben McCauley's 42 minutes of action.
"That was the plan," said Lowe. "Just trying to keep the guys in there that are productive. Things could change obviously with foul situations, but other than that we're going to try and keep [the rotation] to eight, or nine max."
NC State was in this position before. In the loss to Davidson, the Wolfpack had its chances late but couldn't pull it out. Marquette guard Dominic James hit a trio of 3-pointers in the final minutes, including the game-winner with just a couple of seconds left, to hand the Pack another close loss. In the defeat at Florida, Nick Calathes made huge shots down the stretch to lead the Gators past State.
This time around, it was NC State who made the big, critical plays and Lowe stated that the difference in the Pack's close losses, and wins, has been whoever was able to make more plays.
"That's exactly what it is... making plays," said Lowe. "If you watch our games that we've lost or won, it was guys making a big play. Courtney making a steal down at the end getting us the ball... Julius making a big shot.
"That's what it comes down to. The games come down to the last five minutes, and it's really the team that makes the big plays... whether that is a big stop or a big shot, and that's what we did tonight."
Maybe for the first time all season against a high-major opponent the Wolfpack had multiple scoring options on the offensive end of the floor. Costner worked well with Degand on pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop sets, Fells was a reliable threat from the perimeter, and McCauley was a presence in the paint. Multiple options led to consistent offensive play.
"When you have everyone going and making shots like that, then you have options," said Lowe. "Inside, outside, the ball was moving pretty good. Anytime you have more options scoring the ball, you're a better ballclub.
"We talked about what we can be, but then you've got to go out and do it. These guys, they know what they are capable of doing and we talk about strengths and weaknesses and trying to play to your strengths."
Miami made their share of plays too. Highlighted by a 29-9 run in the middle of the second half, the Hurricanes were able to overcome a 19-point deficit and take a lead that some teams might not be able to overcome.
"We answered," said Lowe. "They [made] several runs at us. I thought when we got into overtime we had great energy and great concentration."
For the second consecutive game, NC State had just 10 turnovers. The Wolfpack was also able to record 17 assists. Miami finished with 12 turnovers and 12 assists.
"Ten turnovers... we tell our guys all the time, and that's our mark," said Lowe. "We don't want to get to 10, but we don't want to get over 10. If we have 10 turnovers in a ballgame, we're going to have a chance to win every single night."
Starting point guard Farnold Degand was able to put together solid back-to-back games. Before fouling out in overtime, the junior had recorded seven points, seven assists, and just two turnovers. Over his last two games, Degand has totaled 14 assists with only four turnovers.
"I thought Farnold in particular did a nice job again," said Lowe. "Seven assists, two turnovers... didn't force anything. That allowed us to get the opportunity to make a shot."
On Miami's final possession of regulation, Lowe put senior forward Simon Harris into the lineup. Harris went on to play the entire overtime session as regular forwards Dennis Horner and Tracy Smith watched until Costner fouled out. Lowe wanted Harris on the floor because he believed he could be an asset defensively.
"I wanted to do a certain thing on defense, ball screens in particular," said Lowe. "We needed to have someone where if they switched onto McClinton, they could guard. That's really what that was about... defensive assignments. Trying to get a smaller, quicker guy in there where if we have to switch that ball screen we can keep someone up on Jack."
Several recruits were in the RBC Center watching the game. NC State signee Scott Wood was on his official visit, and Word of God standouts John Wall and C.J. Leslie (an NC State verbal) were visiting unofficially along with a few of their teammates.