It’s been a long time since North Carolina State was mentioned in the same breath with the elite programs in the nation — let alone its own state.
But things are looking up for the Wolfpack as N.C. State returned to the round of 16 with a 66-63 upset of third-seeded Georgetown in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.
The Wolfpack, 24-12, will play Kansas on Friday in St. Louis.
A lowly 11th seed coming in, N.C. State had to survive a furious comeback by the Hoyas that ended when Jason Clark’s hurried three-point attempt from the right wing was off the mark at the buzzer for Georgetown.
The win marks a return to the big stage for a program that has been lost in the rather large shadows cast by neighboring powers Duke and North Carolina. The Wolfpack won national titles in 1974 with David Thompson and in 1983 on Lorenzo Charles’ dramatic last-second putback of Dereck Whittenburg’s wild shot, leading to coach Jim Valvano’s memorable celebration.
But maybe the new Wolfpack has turned a corner.
“We always talk about how we have such a great history at N.C. State,” first-year Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said. “But it’s also time to build some new history.”
C.J. Williams, Scott Wood and C.J. Leslie each had 14 points, and Lorenzo Brown, who hit three big free throws late, added 12 for the Wolfpack, who earned their first trip to the round of 16 since 2005.
N.C. State built an 11-point lead in the second half before Georgetown, 24-9, came clawing back.
The Hoyas, riding the shooting of Hollis Thompson, who had 23 points, drew to 63-61 before freshman Otto Porter missed a 15-foot jumper under pressure with 14 seconds left.
Brown made two foul shots with 10.6 seconds left for a 65-61 lead. Then Clark went the length of the court for a layup before Brown was fouled again with 4.6 seconds left. He hit the first but missed the second, and the Hoyas raced down court for a potential tying three.
They got a good look, with Clark stopping and getting off a rushed shot that was wide of the mark.
“I was just praying it wasn’t going in,” Williams said.
He got his wish, and a wild celebration ensued among the Wolfpack players. Three teammates hefted Brown to their shoulders and carried him across the floor, while guard Alex Johnson popped his jersey and yelled to the roaring North Carolina State faithful, “We back baby! We’re going to the Sweet 16!”