They came here as underdogs, they played their hearts out, they took down the mightiest names in college basketball and reached the finals of the ACC tournament, where exhaustion finally seemed to take over. I'm talking about NC State's run in the ACC basketball tournament. UNC just won the ACC basketball tournament, beating NC State 89-80.
While Tyler Hansbrough was taken down by the State defense, Brandan Wright stepped up and kept the scoreboard ticking. In the first half though, NC State was able to keep up, mainly due to the pyrotechnics of Brandon Costner. He set the scoreboard on fire with his three-point shooting and great moves on the paint. Engin Atsur, State's point guard seemed to be struggling at times - perhaps his hamstring injury and fatigue finally caught up with him.
But with two minutes remaining in the first half, and the teams tied at 32 points apiece Carolina seemed to blaze away with a 14-2 run by the time the half-time break came around. When the second half started, they seemed to continue their run and extended the lead to 16 points. State was written off and if anyone expected them to roll over and play dead, they were wrong. State came back strong and even tied the score at 69, but then almost immediately went down by 3 and then never really recovered after that. The closest they came after that was within 3 points of Carolina.
I think what State was missing in the second half was a complete lack of three-point shooting. Considering that they had three good three-point shooters in Atsur, Costner and Grant (with Fells and Nieman also able to chip in admirably in the past) it was puzzling that they didn't try to shoot more from behind the arc. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, they didn't have a single three-point basket in the second half! This effect became important in the last two minutes of the game where with state being down by two plays, shooting three-pointers seemed like the logical thing to do to close up the gap in a hurry.
There was some poor decision-making in the crucial last couple of minutes, as NC State seemed to be taking too much time to cross the floor, especially when they're trailing by 5! Then there were costly misses when they did get to the other end, all of which probably contributed to their loss after playing hard and coming close.
But that is not taking away from the way this team played in this tournament. Sidney Lowe's team seems to have grown this season and they carry themselves much better than most NC State teams have done in the recent past. With some good recruits that have been picked up this year, next year's season will be a mouth-watering wait for Wolfpack fans.
Even Roy Williams, the UNC head coach, had to stop and admire the State team when he was talking to reporters immediately after receiving the trophy. He said that they have come far and Wolfpack fans everywhere must be proud of how they performed this year. Being a Wolfpack fan myself, I must say I completely agree - they went further than anyone, their own fans included, expected and unfortunately couldn't win the final one - not because they didn't play well, but because they were matched up against a slightly better team. I say slightly, because if NC State had bench strength, then they would have definitely better than UNC today.
Now we'll just have to wait and see if the powers-that-be that make up he NCAA will fee like they have made enough of a point to grant them a spot in the NCAA tournament. Wishful thinking, you say? Well, three days ago, no one would have even considered the idea that NC State could beat Duke, Virginia and V-Tech and make it to the finals of the ACC tournament.