Wolfpack fans will not forget the night of Feb. 15, 2014 any time soon. N.C. State suffered a heartbreaking 56-55 defeat to then-No. 1, undefeated Syracuse before a packed house at the Carrier Dome. The loss stung that much more because N.C. State was clinging to a one-point lead when star forward T.J. Warren was fouled as he sank a bucket, but the shot was waved off. Referees said that Warren was fouled before the act of shooting, forcing an in-bounds pass from the sideline rather than two points plus a free throw. Syracuse’s Rakeem Christmas stole the in-bounds pass and C.J. Fair hit the winning lay-up off of the turnover. Game over. This time the N.C. State Wolfpack got their payback by dropping No. 11 Syracuse 66-63 and sending the Orange home in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
Warren was once again the catalyst for the Wolfpack victory. The ACC player of the year scored a game-high 28 points and led N.C. State with eight rebounds. Although the sophomore forward only shot 9-21 from the field, he made up for his lack of efficiency with ice-cold veins at the free-throw line, where he connected on 10 of his 12 attempts.
Even with Warren getting his points and boards, this was still an all-out team effort by N.C. State. Junior guard Ralston Turner scored all of his nine points in the second half just as Syracuse was trying to make a run, and fifth year senior Jordan Vandenburg scored 10 points on 5-5 shooting while also grabbing five rebounds.
N.C. State actually blew a 10-point second half lead as Syracuse freshman Tyler Ennis scorched the Wolfpack for 15 of his 21 points in the second half. Ennis and the Orange caught N.C. State with just over two and a half minutes left in regulation and tied the score at 59. Turner, however, banked in a 3-pointer for the go-ahead points for the Wolfpack. The teams traded buckets down the stretch, but Warren hit two free throws with just under 25 seconds remaining to give N.C. State a three-point cushion. In their final possession the Orange missed a whopping six shots, including four off-balance attempts from beyond the arc, before the Wolfpack finally regained possession and the final horn sounded.
The loss could cost 27-5 Syracuse mightily in terms of seeding in the NCAA tournament. Following their 25-0 start, the defeat was the Orange’s fifth in their last seven games. Just two weeks ago coach Jim Boeheim’s club seemed to be a lock for a No. 1 seed, but after the loss to the Wolfpack they will be lucky to get a three seed. Most analysts now are actually predicting a four as the team continues to sputter down the stretch.
As for N.C. State, the 21-12 Wolfpack could not have picked a better time to drop Syracuse and enact a little payback. The victory puts Mark Gottfried’s club squarely in the field of 68 according to many prognosticators. Jerry Palm, CBS Sports’ bracketology guru believes, however, that nothing short of an ACC championship appearance will punch the Wolfpack’s ticket to the Big Dance.
Gottfried and his squad might share Palm’s analysis. Although he said that the game was a great opportunity to help their tournament chances, following the victory, the coach, in a very tempered tone, had this to say:
“”We came to Greensboro thinking about one thing, and that’s to play on Sunday. Today was just the next step.”
N.C. State’s payback victory over Syracuse drops the Wolfpack into a tournament semifinal against No. 7 Duke, who barely got by Clemson, 63-62.
Commentary by Jeremy Mika