Lowly State shocks Duke No. 8 seed beats No. 1 for just second time in ACC history, 66-60

March 08, 1997|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

GREENSBORO, N.C. — GREENSBORO, N.C.-- North Carolina State came into this year's Atlantic Coast Conference tournament with the most modest of goals: win its play-in game against Georgia Tech on Thursday night, clinch a better-than-.500 record and get a bid to the National Invitation Tournament.

The Wolfpack saw its goal, not to mention its status, go up quite a bit yesterday in the ACC tournament quarterfinals. After beating the last-place, packed-it-in-for-the-season Yellow Jackets in the preliminary, N.C. State shocked top-seeded and seventh-ranked Duke, 66-60.

It was only the second time in league history that the eighth seed had beaten the top seed, following Maryland's 71-49 victory over N.C. State at the 1989 tournament in Atlanta. N.C. State (15-13) advanced to the semifinals for the first time since winning the 1987 tournament in Landover.

"We're obviously blessed with a special group of guys who have a great deal of pride," said first-year coach Herb Sendek, whose Wolfpack overcame an 0-8 start in the league to win four of its last five games. "The improvement and fruits of their labor are being realized."

In the other semifinal, second-seeded Wake Forest will play third-seeded North Carolina. After building a 12-point lead, the eighth-ranked Demon Deacons withstood a late charge from Florida State and held on for a 66-65 victory. After losing all of an 11-point lead, the fifth-ranked Tar Heels used a late 10-0 run to beat sixth-seeded Virginia, 78-68.

The Wolfpack came from behind -- way behind. N.C. State fell behind 25-9 in the first 11 1/2 minutes and, after cutting its halftime deficit to 31-25, the Wolfpack trailed Duke (23-8) 42-28 with a little under 15 minutes left. But junior forward C. C. Harrison led a 20-4 run to take the lead and N.C. State built its lead to 61-53.

Asked if he had made any major changes from the start of yesterday's game -- which seemed to be a continuation of the regular season, when the Blue Devils won by 15 and 29 -- Sendek said, "Rather than it being some complicated formula or adjustment, I think it was just a group of guys playing with tremendous heart."

Said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski: "I can't tell you from a coach's perspective how much I admire what they did."

There was much to admire about the Wolfpack, which has played the past two weeks and will go the rest of the season without its only inside player, 6-8 freshman Damon Thornton (hip injury). Using only six players -- guards Justin Gainey and Ishua Benjamin played all 40 minutes -- N.C. State wore down the deeper Blue Devils.

Harrison, who has been plagued by injuries and academic problems throughout his career, finished with a career-high 28 points on 9-for-14 shooting. But he had help from senior forwards Danny Strong and Jeremy Hyatt, who had 15 and 11, respectively.

"They did a lot of good things," said Duke's Steve Wojciechowski (Cardinal Gibbons). "They made the big plays down the stretch. We're not doing that right now."

Wake Forest (23-5) hadn't been doing that lately, and had stretches when its guards went cold last night. But though they kept the Seminoles in the game with some erratic free-throw shooting -- including 13 of 23 by All-America center Tim Duncan, who finished with 31 points and 13 rebounds -- the Deamon Deacons made three of their last four to seal the victory.

"Obviously we're pleased we were one point better and about five-tenths of a point better," Wake Forest coach Dave Odom said. "We played a team that would not quit."

Today, they play a team that hasn't lost in a while. Last night's victory was the 10th straight for the fifth-ranked Tar Heels, who saw the Cavaliers tie the score at 59 before closing them out on a run that began and ended with pairs of free throws by Antawn Jamison. The sophomore forward led North Carolina (22-6) with 24 points. Guard Courtney Alexander led Virginia (18-12) with a game-high 27.

"Everyone knows what we're capable of," said sophomore forward Vince Carter, who added 16, including a big three during that game-breaking run. "We can't let up. We've come from so far."

Perhaps, but at least one team in this tournament has come from even farther.

A lot farther.

Pub Date: 3/08/97

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