N.C. State's Mark Gottfried hugs Lorenzo Brown after the Wolfpack's 67-64 victory over Virginia. Bob Alejo, Assistant Athletics Director for Strength and Conditioning, is to the left. ETHAN HYMAN - email@example.com
ATLANTA -- N.C. State is making itself comfortable in this land of hope and dreams where its basketball season now resides.
With its gritty 67-64 victory over Virginia Friday in the ACC tournament quarterfinals, the Wolfpack assured itself of remaining in the discussion in Indianapolis where the game's bracket builders are piecing together the NCAA tournament field this weekend.
Was a victory over a good but not great Virginia team enough to push the Wolfpack over the edge from out to in?
Had the Wolfpack lost, the discussion would have been over. Now, the Wolfpack is trending as social media types like to say.
"I think we deserve to play in the NCAA tournament," Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said after the game. "We did what the committee asked us to do."
That's one vote for the Wolfpack.
I'm giving them another one.
For sure, a win Saturday over North Carolina in the semifinals would put the Wolfpack where it wants to be next week, even if that means an early-week game in Dayton, Ohio. It's a big task but two things matter -- whether John Henson plays for the Tar Heels and if the Wolfpack can again summon the kind of effort it gave against the Cavaliers.
The Wolfpack wasn't beautiful -- that's not how it plays -- but it was obvious from the start that N.C. State understood the urgency of the moment. It pushed the Cavaliers at both ends, dictating the action with an almost desperate intensity.
The Cavaliers are tough to shake for several reasons, Mike Scott and their style of play chief among them, but the Wolfpack kept pushing. Will won.
A note here about the Cavaliers, who are on their way to being very good again under coach Tony Bennett: They haven't played the weekend in an ACC tournament since 1995. Even Clemson has a better record than that.
When C.J. Leslie plays as he did against the Cavaliers -- 19 points and 14 rebounds while hitting nine of 11 field goals -- the Wolfpack is a handful for any opponent. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown were at the inspirational center for the Wolfpack, which needed what they provided.
The difference in winning and losing -- and in N.C. State's case at the moment, being in or out of the NCAA tournament -- is making things happen at critical moments. The Wolfpack did that Friday.
Scott Wood's four-point play in the final second of the first half was immense from an emotional factor, turning a one-point deficit into a three-halftime lead.
Leslie pulling the ball away from Virginia's Akil Mitchell then flipping it to Wood for a 3-pointer that stretched a six-point lead to nine with less than six minutes remaining was big.
And there were others.
It was a day when N.C. State could decide where it wanted to go.
The answer was clear.