by Neil Morris
Leading by three points with five seconds remaining, N.C. State fouled the Hokies’ Erick Green, who already had 28 points on the afternoon, instead of surrendering a potential game-tying three-point attempt. After sinking the first free throw, the nation’s leading scorer intentionally missed his second attempt off the right edge of the iron. Executing a play the Hokies had rehearsed as far back as preseason (but not since), Jerell Eddie charged from outside the 3-point line to the right post. The unmarked Eddie rose toward the rim, caught Green’s carom and laid in the equalizer with two seconds remaining.
As the teams prepared for overtime, N.C. State Head Coach Mark Gottfried admitted his team was experiencing a sense of déjà vu.
“We dropped our head in the timeout for about 10 to 15 seconds, and we were stunned a little,” Gottfried said. “I think we felt like we had the game in hand.”
But unlike losses suffered after tip-ins by Maryland’s Alex Len on Jan. 16 and Miami’s Reggie Johnson on Feb. 2, today the Wolfpack had a second chance and made the most of it. The Pack scored their final eight points from the free throw stripe during overtime to hold on for a 90-86 win over Virginia Tech (11-14, 2-10 ACC) in the schools’ only regular season meeting.
Indeed, once Lewis subbed in for Rodney Purvis just two minutes into the second half, Purvis never reentered the game. This was the fourth consecutive game that Lewis logged more minutes than Purvis.
“Tyler’s making fouls shots, Tyler’s not turning the ball over, Tyler’s helped us offensively get into a really good rhythm and flow,” Gottfried explained. “Sometimes it isn’t necessarily what one person isn’t doing, it’s what the other person is doing … Tyler has deserved to play, period.”
However, it was the Hokies that came out quickly following intermission, building a seven-point lead, their largest of the game. Virginia Tech held the lead most of the opening 14 minutes of the second stanza until the 6:04 mark, when Scott Wood sank one of his six 3-pointers and was fouled by the Hokies’ Robert Brown. Wood’s ensuing free throw gave the Pack a lead they would keep until the end of regulation. Indeed, the Wolfpack held a six-point advantage with 20 seconds left in the second half before a combination of Hokies baskets and uneven free throw shooting by N.C. State set the stage for Eddie’s game-tying putback.
With 18 seconds left in overtime, N.C. State again found themselves leading by three and the Hokies with possession. However, Green coughed up the ball to Lorenzo Brown, who was fouled and converted two of his four extra time free throws.
Green led all players in points (29) and assists (8), but he didn’t score during the overtime period. Both Richard Howell (10 pts., 16 rebounds) and Virginia Tech freshman Marshall Wood (14 pts., 16 rebounds) had double-doubles.
While the teams were close in most statistical categories, there was a stark divide in two. Virginia Tech attempted 80 shots to only 55 by N.C. State, including a 15-attempt difference during the second period. Even more incredible is the fact that the Wolfpack attempted 43 free throws, converting 31, while the Hokies attempted only seven, all by Green. When asked about this latter disparity after the game, Hokie Head Coach James Johnson prefaced his answer with a pregnant pause and straightening his tie, undoubtedly to avoid a knee-jerk response that would draw rebuke from the league office.
Gottfried had his own explanations.
“One, we had leads in both regulation and overtime, so some of the fouls were fouling when you’re down,” he said. “I thought we did a good job, too, of going to the rim and getting the ball inside … we’re trying to get to the rim and be aggressive.”
N.C. State (18-7, 7-4 ACC) returns to the hardwood on Tuesday, Feb. 19 when it hosts Florida State at PNC Arena. With only six games left in the conference season—including a trip to Chapel Hill next Saturday—Gottfried understands that the most important statistic is the final score, even against the last-place team in the ACC.
“It wasn’t the prettiest win. But at the end of the day, that’s what it was: an important win for our team.”