Wolfpack Keeps UNC On Its Heels
Feb 24, 2002
By Tony Haynes
Raleigh, NC--Everything was right in place for a big NC State celebration on Sunday. On senior night, the Wolfpack was hosting North Carolina in front of a delirious sellout crowd of 19,722 fans at the ESA. Also on hand were coach Norm Sloan and many players from his 1974 national championship team.
But for a half, the Tar Heels, who came in with a shocking 7-18 record, seemed poised to spoil the big party. Shooting 54.8 percent in the opening half, Carolina held a 46-36 lead at the break.
But then it happened. Putting together its most scintillating half of basketball in recent memory, NC State outscored the Tar Heels by 32 points after intermission to post a memorable 98-76 victory. In scoring a season-high 62 points in the second half, the Pack shot 58.6 percent from the floor and made 6-of-9 three-point shots. The onslaught was led by--who else--Anthony Grundy. Playing in his last home game, the senior guard came within two of tieing a career-high by scoring a game high 28 points. He also grabbed seven rebounds and dished out three assists in yet another all conference type of performance. Grundy was joined by fellow senior Archie Miller, who despite second half foul trouble, scored 18 points, drilling 4-of-7 three-point bombs along the way. Sophomore forward Marcus Melvin helped the seniors out by recording a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
The win was NC State's 20th overall and ninth in conference play, meaning the Pack is guaranteed of finishing with a winning conference record for the first time since the 1991 season. The victory, combined with Wake Forest's 80-79 loss at Maryland earlier in the day, gave the Wolfpack sole possession of third place in the ACC standings with one regular season game--at Wake next Saturday--left to play. The victory may have also sealed NC State's first NCAA Tournament bid in 10 years.
"We took a knock-out punch from North Carolina early, we were back on our heels," said Wolfpack coach Herb Sendek. "I thought they came out and were sharp and I thought our guys were pressing, they wanted to do well so badly. We were able to regroup at halftime and certainly played a much better second half."
And the turnaround started right away as NC State scored the first seven points of the half, causing Carolina coach Matt Doherty to call a quick timeout. Grundy got the Pack started by scoring from the low post. Then Miller took a nice feed from Grundy in transition and drilled a three from the right-hand corner to cut UNC's advantage down to 46-41. The run ended on a short hook in the lane by freshman forward Ilian Evtimov, who finished with 10 points and six assists.
Over the first 4:30 of the second half, NC State outscored North Carolina 18-5 to grab a five-point advantage. The run included a three-pointer by Melvin that tied the scored at 48-48 and another by Miller that put the Wolfpack in front for the first time, 51-48. Fouled by Melvin Scott on his three-point shot, Miller completed the four-point play at the free throw line to put his team up by four. Two more Miller free throws at the 15:38 mark made it 56-51.
But North Carolina wasn't quite ready to pack it in as it seemingly had so many times this season. Trailing 64-57 with 12:13 remaining, the Heels used two baskets by Kris Lang and another by Jason Capel to score six straight points. Lang converted a pair of free throws with 10:02 remaining to tie it 61-61. Moments later, the 6-10 senior from Gastonia scored again to put the Heels out in front 68-66.
With the crowd growing uneasy at the thought of a down to the wire finish, NC State needed a spark. Then with the scored tied 71-71 at the 7:17 mark, the Wolfpack exploded. Helping NC State's cause were the fouls that were piling up on the Carolina side. With 7:07 remaining, the Tar Heels were called for their 10th team foul, meaning the Pack would shoot two the rest of the way. Melvin hit a pair followed by three more by Julius Hodge to put NC State ahead 76-71 with 6:38 remaining. Following a jumper by Scooter Sherrill and a layup by Evtimov, Melvin gave the Wolfpack some breathing room by knocking down another huge three to make it 83-73 with 4:43 left. By the time Grundy hit two more free throws moments later, a 14-2 run had helped NC State build an 85-73 lead. And this time, Carolina didn't come back. Over the last seven minutes, the Pack outscored the Tar Heels 27-5 to turn this one into a runaway.
"In think when we picked up our defense, we started to get easy baskets," Grundy said. "Things kind of fell into place after that."
North Carolina, which had shot so well in the opening half, converted only 37 percent of its shots after the break. The Tar Heels also had eight turnovers that resulted in some easy NC State baskets in the second half.
"We just really dug in on defense," Sendek said. "We got some stops, I thought we really got out in transition, and our offensive execution really picked up."
NC State also took advantage of North Carolina's foul trouble by knocking down 30-of-37 free throws. Grundy was 10-12, while Melvin made 9-of-10 from the stripe.
"The two things that have really propelled us this year are low turnovers, tonight we had eight, and good free throw shooting," Sendek said. "With those two things moving in your direction, that's a real advantage. It really helps offset some of our non-strengths.
North Carolina's strength was Lang, who banged his way down low to 19 points and seven rebounds. The Tar Heels also got 17 points apiece from Capel and point guard Adam Boone, who made 5-of-7 shots from the floor.
"I give great credit to NC State and Herb, he's done a great job with this team," Doherty said. "We were in great shape and then they came out to start the second half on a run that really changed the momentum in their favor. We didn't handle the ball as well as we did in the first half and we didn't get as many open looks in the second half. I was proud of our kids. There's been a lot of talk about them quitting and obviously they did not quit. We just have to put 40 minutes together. Against a good team, you can't play a good half or a good 32 minutes."
NC State finished with a 37-31 edge on the boards, including a 10-6 advantage on the offensive glass. There were three lead changes and seven ties. Remarkably, however, the Wolfpack outscored North Carolina 62-30 in the second half.
This marks the first time an NC State team has won 20 games in the regular season since a club coached by Jim Valvano won 20 back in 1988-89. More importantly, Sunday night's victory may have wrapped up the elusive NCAA bid that the Wolfpack has been seeking for a decade.
"I think if we weren't already in the tournament, today's game put us over the hump," Sendek said. "Obviously, I don't make that decision but I think we are in and I feel confident about that."