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    Wolfpack Heads to ACC Title Game After 72-64 Win over VT

    Updated: 8:48 p.m., 3/10/2007


    TAMPA, Fla. -- For the fourth time in the last 11 years, NC State is going to the ACC Championship game. But can the Wolfpack, seeded No.10 in the 12-team event, pull off its fourth upset in as many days when it faces top-seeded

    North Carolina in Sunday’s championship game, to replicate its last ACC Championship 20 years ago?

    Saturday afternoon, the Wolfpack (18-14) beat third-seeded Virginia Tech for the third time this season, riding the wave of a hot-shooting first half and taking advantage of the Hokies inability to make free throws for a 72-64 victory at the St. Pete Times Forum. The Tar Heels (27-6) advanced to the championship game by beating fourth-seeded


    College 71-56 in Saturday’s first semifinal.

    It will be the sixth time in ACC Tournament history that NC State and

    North Carolina, separated by 25 miles in the heart of the Triangle, have met in the championship game. The Tar Heels have a 3-2 advantage in those games, the most recent of which was played 10 years ago in

    Charlotte. But the Wolfpack also beat North Carolina 20 years ago in

    Landover, Md., in an improbable championship run.

    It will also be the first time in ACC Tournament history that both coaches went to school where they are the head basketball coaches. First-year coach Sidney Lowe played at NC State from 1980-83, while fourth-year coach Roy Williams was a junior varsity player at UNC in 1972.

    “I thought our guys played with a lot of guts and a lot of character against and a lot of pride against a good ball club,” first-year head coach Sidney Lowe said. “I thought our defense was good throughout the game.”

    The Wolfpack, which has advances to the title game for the third time in six years, made eight of its first 11 shots and jumped out to a 31-25 lead at halftime, leading by as many as 11 points in the first half. Lowe’s team hit 12 of 18 shots in the first half, for 66.7 percent, the same percentage it had in the regular-season win over the Hokies in

    Raleigh on Feb. 18.

    Meanwhile, the Hokies made only 11 of their 28 shots (39.3 percent), as first-team All-ACC selection Zabian Dowdell struggled from the field throughout the first 30 minutes of the contest.

    For the game, the Wolfpack made 21 of its 40 field goal attempts, the third consecutive game State has made better than 50 percent from the field. It’s the only time this season that first-year coach Sidney Lowe’s team has had back-to-back-back games of making more than half its field goals.

    Junior Gavin Grant led his team with 18 points in the contest, including eight consecutive free throws in the final six minutes of the game. For the game, Grant was 11-for-11 from the line, a vast improvement over his 3-for-8 performance against Duke in the opener and even his 4-for-5 performance in against


    “I thought I was going to shoot myself after that first day,” Grant said. “The second day, I felt all right. Once I made the first one today, I knew I would be all right."


    Dowdell missed nine of his first 10 field goals, scoring just four points in the first half. But he found his from midway through the second half to help the Hokies tie the game on two occasions in the second half, the first time on a layup by Dowdell and the second time on a 3-pointer by sophomore A.D. Vasaillo with 7:13 to play in the half.

    “I did a bad job of finishing tonight and I just wasn’t feeling it,” Dowdell said.

    The Wolfpack not only fought fatigue, but had to get through Brandon Costner’s foul trouble in the second half. Costner, who scored 52 points in the Wolfpack’s first two tournament games, scored only three points in the first half and picked up his fourth foul with 10:42 remaining in the game. He finished the game with 10 points, and was proud of his teammates for following through with the victory.

    “We just really didn’t have the opportunity to quit and give up,” Costner said. “We came down here to do one thing: win the tournament. To give up when I got in foul trouble, we would have all been disappointed with ourselves and wouldn’t have been able to look ourselves in the mirror.”


    Senior Engin Atsur, who missed 12 of 13 games in the heart of the season with a hamstring injury, tweaked the injury again in the first half and hobbled his way down the court the rest of the game. He said the hamstring has felt tight since the second half of Thursday’s win over Duke and was especially sore in the second half against Virginia Tech. But he is expected to get treatment Saturday night and Sunday morning, and will likely be in the starting lineup when the title game tips off at 1 p.m.

    “He knows it is such a big game,” said sophomore Ben McCauley of his teammate. “There is nothing that would stop him from going back out there unless his leg fell off.”

    The Hokies hurt themselves in the contest by making just five of its first 15 free throw attempts, including missing all three front ends of one-and-one opportunities in the second half, two by Coleman Collins and one Jamon Gordon. Grant grabbed the rebounds on all three of those misses. The Hokies finished at just 8-for-19 from the line, or 42.1 percent.


    Meanwhile, Lowe’s team made 24 of its 28 attempts from the free-throw line.


    The Wolfpack got big baskets by McCauley down the stretch, as well as a couple of jumpshots from sophomore Courtney Fells, who finished the game with 16 points. McCauley had eight points in the contest.


    Lowe’s team continued its hot shooting against the Hokies in the opening minutes of the game, jumping to a 23-12 advantage by making eight of its first 11 field goal attempts.


    The Wolfpack shot the lights out in the two regular-season games against the Hokies, making 53.1 percent of its shots in a 70-59 win in Blacksburg, Va., and 66.7 percent in an 81-56 win in

    Raleigh, the best single-game shooting percentage by an NC State team in a quarter century.


    Up 11 midway through the half, Lowe took the opportunity to rest his starters for about five minutes, using seniors Justin Clark and Bryan Nieman and freshmen Dennis Horner and Trevor Ferguson off the bench. At one point, Nieman, Horner and

    Ferguson were on the court at the same.However, the Pack turned the ball over on five out of six possessions, allowing the Hokies to get within 25-21 with 3:38 to play.


    By then, Lowe went back to his starting lineup and Gavin Grant converted a three-point play with 2:32 remaining and Horner hit a 3-pointer with 1:06 remaining to push the lead back to seven points. State made four of its five 3-pointers in the opening half.


    Lowe is the fourth NC State coach to advance to the finals in his first ACC Torunament, joining Everett Case (1954), Press Maravich (1965) and Herb Sendek (1997).


    Four coaches in ACC Tournament history have won it in their first appearance at the event: NC State’s Everett Case (1954) and Press Maravich (1965), Duke’s Vic Bubas (an NC State alumnus and a former assistant under Case, 1960) and North Carolina’s Bill Guthridge (1998).

    You may contact Tim Peeler at


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