Upset of Tar Heels stuns 'Pack coach

January 05, 1995|By Knight-Ridder News Service

RALEIGH, N.C. -- A year ago, North Carolina State was losing games to Weber State, Wisconsin-Green Bay, Campbell and Florida Atlantic.

Last night, the Wolfpack beat previously unbeaten North Carolina, the No. 1 team in the nation, 80-70, running its record to 8-2 and setting off a wild, ear-splitting celebration that raged on the Reynolds Coliseum court long after the last shot had been fired.

"This was a very, very big win for us," said coach Les Robinson, whose future appeared shaky after back-to-back 8-19 and 11-19 seasons. "All games are not created equal in terms of emotion and excitement. No doubt, this one was extremely emotional for us, playing a big rival who is ranked No. 1."

Told that Clemson had just upset Duke, Robinson said, "This is an amazing night. All I can say is, the ACC has started. It's amazing, it really is. For a night, N.C. State and Clemson are on top of the ACC."

Losing coach Dean Smith, hearing the Clemson-Duke result, said, "Welcome to college basketball."

It had been obvious that the Wolfpack had come a long way since last season. Close losses to Kansas and UCLA had demonstrated that. But over the past couple of years, UNC had pounded the Pack four times.

Lakista McCuller had suffered with that. Last night, he did something about it. He scored 24 points, 18 of them in the second half. And he hit the big baskets when the game was on the line.

With just over two minutes to play, a game that had been close all the way was tied at 66.

McCuller, who had scored eight points in a row for N.C. State, made it 11 in a row. He pulled up and rainbowed in a three-pointer to put the Wolfpack up to stay.

"I thought we were in great shape when we got it tied 66-66," Smith said, "but then McCuller hit a crushing three after they had cooled off for a while."

Charlotte's Todd Fuller, who held his own and more against North Carolina's heralded sophomore center Rasheed Wallace, hit a layup to make the margin five, and freshman Ishua Benjamin added two free throws to make it 73-66. North Carolina battled back to 73-70, but McCuller hit four free throws and sealed it.

"I don't even like to think about last year," said McCuller, who hit six of 14 three-pointers. "I dream every night about basketball, about trying to be successful, about accomplishing games like this. And tonight it came true."

North Carolina played without starting guard Dante Calabria, out with a foot injury, starting walk-on Pearce Landry in his place. Landry got into early foul trouble, compounding the depth problems.

"Not having Calabria didn't have a lot to do with it," said Smith. "N.C. State gave a marvelous performance here at home. It was a great victory. I told Les before the game how impressed I was with his team. They've improved so much from last year."

Robinson said the aspect he liked most was N.C. State's defense. North Carolina hit just 13 of 36 shots in the second half.

Jerry Stackhouse had 24 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks for North Carolina. Wallace had 15 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks.

Fuller finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds and gave the Wolfpack 37 minutes.

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