‘Cats Get Kudos in ACC Country

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When I moved to ACC country 15 years ago, it meant giving up a few items from the Northeast…cheesteaks and Big East Basketball among two of the more important.

I could not have been more proud of the way the Wildcats played in this years’ NCAA tournament, rising to the challenge every step of the way and never giving up – particularly against UNC last Friday night. Just so you know, their efforts did not go unnoticed in Raleigh. You can imagine my surprise over the column below in today’s paper, admonishing the NC State Wolfpack to “…play like Villanova.”

Frankly, Mr. Barnett is not known as a major supporter of Herb Sendek, and I don’t completely agree with his take on the ‘Pack. Still, this article has to qualify as a rare collector’s piece on “Tobacco Road.”


Steve Brechbiel

’79 Education/English

Steve Brechbiel919.872.0202 (home)919.998.2548 (office)919.345.6741 (cell)

Pack Takes Step Back — Again

By NED BARNETT, Staff Writer

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The Carrier Dome had an empty, echoing feel Saturday afternoon. The 30,000 fans of the previous night were gone, and so were two of the teams, Villanova and N.C. State.What was most striking about the departed teams was the different impressions they left.

Villanova had the dome rocking Friday night with each basket and defensive stop as it used four guards to almost bring down North Carolina. That the Wildcats nearly pulled it off and were thwarted in part by a controversial traveling call at the end earned the team admiration around the nation.

Villanova’s Allan Ray, a high school teammate of Julius Hodge, said the game returned the program to the top ranks of college basketball. “The nation got to see that Villanova is back on the map,” Ray said. “Got to see a good group that goes out and plays hard, doesn’t back down from anyone.”

State came here with the same image. It left with the opposite one. Instead of putting itself back on the map, the Wolfpack is in need of a map one that shows the way over the hump.

In the first half, Wisconsin all but handed State a spot in the regional final, only to accept the gift in return from the Wolfpack in the second half. Compared to Villanova’s gritty show, State looked slow, tired and out of its element.

In the cold light of Saturday, the magnitude of State’s collapse began to look almost as stunning as the Pack’s second-half meltdown against Vanderbilt in last year’s second round.

Consider these notes on Wisconsin’s comeback after trailing 30-21 at the half.

Previous to meeting State, the low-scoring Badgers were 1-6 when trailing at halftime this season. Their comeback from nine points down was their biggest of the season.

State gave up 44 points in the second half to a team that scores 67 per game.

Julius Hodge and Ilian Evtimov, the team’s two leaders, shot a collective 6-for-26 and had eight of the Pack’s 13 turnovers.

And here’s the big note: It was the first time in 25 years that State lost an NCAA Tournament game in which it led at the half.

It should be said that State fought through illnesses and injuries and second-seeded Connecticut to get to the round of 16. And if point guard Tony Bethel had been completely healthy, the Pack might be playing today in the regional final.

Still, State’s woeful show on a gloomy Good Friday evening squandered most of the respect it gained by getting here. The game was ridiculed as an ugly mess. It was.

Wisconsin completed the first half with 11 turnovers and no assists. A team that set a school record for 3-pointers didn’t hit one in the first 20 minutes.

State hit its first six 3-pointers, then went into a funk. In the last 10 minutes of the first half, State scored seven points. Wisconsin scored six.

State should have pounded the Badgers and ended the half leading by 20. Wisconsin was that bad, but State had another half to be even worse.

The price of this loss will be heavy. The buzz building around State’s run died. Grumbling about coach Herb Sendek revived. And an opportunity State may not see again for years was missed.

Looking back, a Pack win could have been followed by a Villanova upset of Carolina, leaving only the wounded and emotionally drained Wildcats between State and a trip to the Final Four. At worst, the only thing between State and a stunning trip to St. Louis would have been a rousing showdown with archrival Carolina.

Instead of a breakthrough, there was a breakdown. When things break down, questions follow. One that came up for ninth-year coach Sendek was this: “Does it feel like you’re good but never quite good enough?”

Sendek, an exceedingly decent man who retains perspective about basketball as a game, gave an extended response. This was, after all, a question he knows well. In part, he said:

“Would we like to win? Sure. Do we always want to win one more? Absolutely. Even if you win the championship, you want to win the next championship. But good enough is being around amazing young men like this, watching them grow, watching them do their best.

“Isn’t that good enough?”

It would have been good enough if watching State’s players on Friday was to see them do their best. The Pack’s performance was far short of the best it can do.

That’s not good enough. Play like Villanova. That’s good enough.

Columnist Ned Barnett can be reached at 829-4555 or [email protected]