N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe stops to sign an autograph as he leaves the court following the Wolfpack's 75-67 loss to Maryland. ETHAN HYMAN - firstname.lastname@example.org
GREENSBORO -- Sidney Lowe had enough moral support in Greensboro Coliseum on Thursday night to generate a tidal wave of hope.
Plenty of fans dressed in various shades of orange – Clemson, Virginia, Virginia Tech folks – welcomed the affable N.C. State coach with spirited applause.
Even those ACC Tournament fans wearing Carolina blue got to their feet when Lowe was introduced over the public address system.
The opposing coach in the third first-round game of the day – Maryland veteran Gary Williams – was quick to rise to his feet and warmly greet Lowe in his bright red blazer on the sidelines.
But the power of positive thinking and all the best wishes in the world can carry a guy only so far.
After five trying seasons and a 75-67 loss to the Terps (19-13), the former Wolfpack star player may have reached the end of the same sort of challenge that basically has been too much to overcome for State coaches dating back to Jim Valvano in the 1980s.
In many ways, it was a lot like the final game for Les Robinson, another former Wolfpack player and Valvano’s successor, in 1996.
That team, Robinson’s sixth, was eliminated in the ACC postseason by Georgia Tech in the same building and even coming out of the same locker room that Lowe and his players occupied Thursday.
There wasn’t any sort of statement from State athletic director Debbie Yow, nor did Lowe say anything dramatic.
"This is my school, I love this school," Lowe said. "It was my hope and dream to come back here and do something special again.
"It hurts me. I know what it's like to win here and I know how the people will get behind you. It means a lot more to me."
By the middle stages of the second half, when it became apparent that State (15-16) couldn’t stop Maryland sophomore Jordan Williams (16 points, 13 rebounds) inside or counter with a consistent low-post offense of its own, the hopeful mood in the building grew somber.
In the locker room after the game, State center Jordan Vandenberg said Lowe’s demeanor was the same as after other games.
“He was pretty much stone-faced, but that’s how Coach is,” Vanderberg said. “He told us he was proud of the way we fought back near the end of the game, but he also pointed out some of the things we didn’t do right.”
Vandenberg said the players are hoping their coach will get another chance but understand there could be changes.
“Everyone has to wait and see,” he said. “For me and a lot of the other guys, the preseason starts tomorrow no matter what. We’ll be in the practice gym tomorrow morning. That’s all we can do. Other things are out of our hands.”
Lowe’s best moments had been in the league tournament. His first team, which went 5-11 in conference regular-season games, won three straight in the tourney before falling to UNC in the championship.
Just last season, another 5-11 State team defeated Clemson and Florida State before losing by three points to Georgia Tech in the semifinals.
And though never really successful as a coach, Lowe was respected for maintaining the sort of class and determination he displayed as a floor leader of an NCAA championship team in 1983.
Where the program Lowe still loves dearly will go from here isn’t known and may not be for a few days.
As always, Lowe remained outwardly upbeat. But logically, it’s going to be difficult for Yow to stay the course when at least some Wolfpack fans have lost hope.
Lowe certainly tried. He didn’t shortchange the program or his players. He was a good soldier in the truest sense. But at a time when the ACC grew bigger but weaker, the hero of ’83 could not duplicate the same magic as a coach.