Indiana's Will Sheehey passes around the defense of N.C. State's C.J. Leslie to Hoosier Christian Watford (2) in the first half. ETHAN HYMAN - firstname.lastname@example.org
RALEIGH — N.C. State and Indiana turned the RBC Center into a time machine on Wednesday night.
Both proud programs have seen their national standing usurped by in-state rivals, but the only ACC-Big Ten Challenge matchup between two teams with multiple national titles felt like it mattered, even on the final day of November.
To Jordan Hulls and Indiana, it mattered a little more by the end of a hard-fought 86-75 win over the Wolfpack. Hulls' 20 points, to go with 19 from freshman forward Cody Zeller, sent a Wolfpack crowd of 16,597 home disappointed in the outcome but not the effort.
First-year coach Mark Gottfried noticed the environment, calling it phenomenal, but regretted his team couldn't close out the seven-point lead it had with 8 minutes to go.
"I wish we would have been able to deliver the win for them," Gottfried said. "It was a missed opportunity."
If N.C. State (5-2) wants to measure progress based on the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Gottfried's first year is still a success. The Wolfpack lost the previous three Challenge games by 39, 12 and 23 points and it didn't participate in 2008 as punishment for a last-place ACC finish. So Wednesday's tilt between two desperate programs — five and a half years removed from the NCAA tournament in State's case and three years removed from a winning record for IU — was a move in the right direction.
Zeller's tip-in at 4:23 in the second half put the Hoosiers back in front, where they stayed after a five-point flurry by Christian Watford and an intentional foul call on N.C. State's Scott Wood gave them some breathing room.
A block by C.J. Leslie, on a Victor Oladipo dunk attempt, led to a C.J. Williams layup, and cut Indiana's lead to 76-75, but that was as close as State would get in the final 2 minutes.
Hulls, a junior guard, buried a contested 3, near the end of the shot clock, with 1:37 left. He finished with 20 points and five assists.
"We weren't expecting him to get off like that," State guard Lorenzo Brown said. "We knew he could shoot, but we didn't know he could shoot like Scott."
That's "Scott" as in Scott Wood, State's sharp-shooter, who finished with 16 points, but with only three in the second half. His intentional foul of Oladipo at 2:55, took the starch out of State's late push. Brown led State with 19 points and six rebounds and Leslie added 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Twice in the first half, the Wolfpack erased an 11-point deficit, and took a 42-41 lead at the break. Leslie's tip-in at the first-half buzzer gave N.C. State its only lead of the half.
The teams went back-and-forth for the first 12 minutes of the second half before State started a 9-2 surge. Brown's duck-under layup, followed by a 3 from Wood and transition bucket by guard Alex Johnson made it 63-56 with 7:52 left.
Still up five with 6:57 left, State forward Richard Howell lost control of the ball on a breakaway dunk, which Zeller promptly responded with a dunk of his own. The wheels starting falling off on offense for the Pack and the defense couldn't keep up with Hulls, Zeller or Watford (16 points, nine rebounds).
"That's the tough part," Williams said. "We kind of let down at the end and it hurt us."
The game got away from State in the final minute. Wood missed a 3 and then fouled out. Oladipo used a Leslie turnover to showcase his dunking skills, a reverse number with 18 seconds left to punctuate the Hoosiers' win.