At that point it looked like NC State's season might be over – a few moments later the Bulls grabbed the lead and the Pack offense looked rudderless.
But with 11 seconds left, Scott Wood caught a long inbounds pass across half court and caught the defense unprepared – firing a bullet pass into the lane to a wide-open Richard Howell. Howell hit the lay-up with eight seconds remaining and the Pack defense got one last stop, lifting the Pack past South Florida with a 58-57 win on Tuesday night in Tampa, Florida.
The Pack (20-15) will now travel to Birmingham, Alabama to take on UAB (24-8) in the second round of the NIT. The Blazers advanced to the second round by torching Coastal Carolina on Tuesday night but had lost three straight games going into the match-up with Carolina.
The Pack defense once again held an opponent to less than 60 points, as the Pack has now won three post-season games without breaking the 60-point barrier after failing to accomplish that feat the entire regular season.
The Bulls shot 43 percent but only hit 2-of-9 from behind the arc and didn't take advantage of a big free-throw edge, hitting just 68 percent from the charity stripe.
On offense the Pack once again saved the best for last, scoring 36 points in the second half after a slow first-half performance where they only mustered 22 points.
The Pack shot 42 percent from the floor and was 4-of-13 from 3-point range while committing 14 turnovers. The Pack also grabbed nine offensive rebounds on 32 misses while the Bulls had just three offensive boards on their 23 misses.
Dennis Horner set a new career high with 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting to go along with six rebounds. Smith added 14 points, 10 of those in the second half, and had seven boards as the only other player in double figures. Richard Howell added nine points off the bench and scored the final three points after Smith fouled out.
Horner was the only thing going right for the Pack offense at the start of the game, as the senior forward scored the first 12 points for his team to keep pace with the Bulls. Horner finished the half with 14 points, more than the rest of the team combined, but the Bulls pulled away from the Pack towards the end of the half and took an 26-22 lead into the locker room.
The Pack shot just 32 percent from the floor in the half, 19 percent excluding Horner, while the Bulls hit 41 percent of its shots and was 2-for-3 from behind the 3-point arc.
The Pack also turned the ball over seven times and sent the Bulls to the line 16 times but was bailed out as South Florida hit only 10 of their attempts.
The Pack played better offensively in the second half, overtaking the Bulls at the 13-minute mark of the half on a lay-up by Horner. The Pack held the lead for most of the half, as Smith and Horner carried the Pack offensively. But when Smith fouled out, the Pack offense turned to two freshmen for a huge play on the final possession. Howell and Wood came through for the Wolfpack.
The win improved State's record to 20-15 on the season.