For the second time in four years under the direction of head coach Mark Gottfried, NC State is off to the round of 16 after a huge 71-68 upset over Villanova, the No. 1 seed in the East region.
Junior Trevor Lacey and Freshman Abdul-Malik Abu continued their fine play for the Wolfpack during the NCAA tournament.
Lacey scored 17 points in 38 minutes of action.
Abu, fresh off a double-digit outing against LSU, matched his first-round total with 13 points
But it was Abu’s tenacity on the glass that proved to be invaluable.
The freshman amassed 12 rebounds, including six offensive rebounds, four of which he grabbed during one possession in the second half.
Throughout the evening, the Wildcats struggled to knock down shots, shooting 31 percent (19-of-61) from the field.
Villanova’s field-goal percentage on the evening ranks second among their worst shooting performances this season.
Though the Wildcats held the Wolfpack to only three three-point field goals on 11 attempts, the Wolfpack still managed to shoot 45 percent from the field overall.
That mark of efficiency signifies, to a degree, the poise and maturity exhibited by the Wolfpack late in the second half.
With 2:09 left in the game, Barber, who was able to escape the high pressure applied by the Wildcats guards atop the perimeter, passed the ball to Lacy, who, piecing together a series of dribbles to size up his opponent, pulled up at the line and scored a much-needed dagger of a basket to put the Wolfpack up by five.
Twenty-six seconds after Lacy’s momentous fadeaway jumper, Barber, toying with his man on the right wing before bursting through the wildcat defense, made a beautiful layup, going glass, increasing the lead to seven.
But somehow the Wildcats managed to fight, not lying down when the pace and overall state of play seemed to fall in NC State’s favor.
Directly after a timeout called to get things in order following Barber’s score, Darrun Hilliard knocked down his first three pointer since the seven-minute mark.
And one shot was all Hilliard needed as he proved to have the hot hand, converting from long range, once again, to bring the Wildcats within two, 67-65.
Immediately after a Villanova timeout, Trevor Lacy, trying to inbound the ball, threw an errant pass up court toward an unsuspecting Desmond Lee standing near the left sideline.
The aforementioned miscue was one of 10 turnovers committed by the Wolfpack on the evening, and though that tally is fewer than what they had amassed in their previous game, Lacey admitted that it inhibited their ability to get out to and maintain a sizable lead.
“If we didn’t make a few mistakes, we felt like we could have extended the lead a bit more,” Lacey said. “We knew that in the second half we had to come out and match their intensity.”
Lacey’s turnover afforded the Wildcats another chance to save their season.
Dylan Ennis, however, would go on to forgo a potential high-percentage shot in favor of a straightaway three pointer, which he would miss with 12 seconds left.
The Wolfpack are the first of the ACC’s six tournament-active teams to secure a spot in the round of 16.
NC State awaits the winner of Northern Iowa-Louisville, which could bring about an ACC showdown in the Sweet 16.