For a majority of last night’s matchup, things did not look good for the Wolfpack. In the first half, the offense looked out of sync, and NC State was getting dominated on the boards and on fast breaks. LSU was having their way, and Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey were putting on a dunk fest. NC State just looked overmatched. LSU went into the half with a 40-26 lead, and seemed to be well on its way to advancing in the tournament. When the second half started, it was much of the same. NC State was scoring, but they could not quite find a way to stop LSU, and had trouble gaining any momentum. They were in desperate need of a spark to start something up. It started when Cat Barber and Trevor Lacey knocked down a pair of buckets – Lacey’s a 3 that gave the Pack a little hope. Still, though, State was looking for that spark. It was Kyle Washington who provided it. Off of a layup by Barber that bounced off the front rim, Washington rose up and slammed it back in with authority to cut the Tigers’ lead to 7, at 62-55. The very next possession, Washington got the ball open at the top of the key and knocked down a huge three-pointer that cut the lead to 62-58.
From Washington’s outburst until the end of the game, it had a whole new feel. LSU stayed out in front for all but the final thousandth of a second, but NC State gained momentum. When the end of the game rolled around, LSU looked like they would hang on and send the Wolfpack back to Raleigh. However, things changed when the Tigers missed their last 6 free throws, and NC State capitalized. Anya finished the game strong, with the final four points to win the game. NC State came back from down 16 to knock off LSU.
North Carolina State was on the other side of a game like this last season. In the round of 64 last year, State missed almost every free throw down the stretch and blew a 20-point lead en route to a loss to Saint Louis. It was nice to see the Wolfpack on the other side this year. Give them credit for clawing back into the game and eventually picking up the win, but also, some of this win was due to LSU’s debacle at the end. When all was said and done, though, it was NC State who came out on top and earned a date with Villanova on Saturday night.
So how did NC State win? There are a couple of reasons. First, NC State stepped up defensively. Much like what they did at the end of the season in some big wins, State played great defense and earned a win because of it. They stopped LSU from making any of their last 12 field goal attempts, and held them scoreless throughout the end of the game. Second, Kyle Washington provided a lot of intensity off the bench. The sophomore forward has somewhat been in the ‘doghouse’ lately, but last night, he was key for NC State. He ignited the run that won them the game, and game through on both ends of the court. Lastly, Cat Barber played well all game. He was the catalyst for NC State, and kept them hanging around throughout the first half and the start of the second half. He played smart, and got to the hoop, creating opportunities for his teammates, while also scoring himself. He led the way with 17 points, and did all he needed to do to keep his team in the game.
Next up for NC State is a game with 1-seed Villanova, a team with great guard play, like NC State, but also an underrated frontcourt. NC State needs to avoid a slow start against Villanova, because while LSU slowed a little bit throughout the game, Villanova will not stop until they win the game. For the next little bit, though, the Wolfpack can be glad for the great comeback win over LSU.