Vanderbilt comes back, goes forward

Commodores escape 11-point hole in final stages, stun N.C. State, 75-73

Ncaa Regional

Phoenix

March 22, 2004|By Josh Robbins | Josh Robbins,ORLANDO SENTINEL

ORLANDO, Fla. - The two star players, Matt Freije of Vanderbilt and Julius Hodge of North Carolina State, cried yesterday after their NCAA tournament second-round game ended.

All at once, it felt exhilarating for one and heartbreaking for the other. At midcourt, Freije lay on his back, shedding joyful tears. Hodge sat on the Wolfpack bench for several moments, then walked off the TD Waterhouse Centre court, covering his face.

Sixth-seeded Vanderbilt had rallied from an 11-point deficit late in the game to upset No. 3 N.C. State, 75-73, before 15,640.

"It's the most amazing feeling I've ever experienced before," said Freije, a senior who scored 31 points, including 11 of Vanderbilt's last 19. "I really did not want today to be my last day of basketball in college. I don't think I've been so drained after a game."

The Commodores (23-9) advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1993 and will face second-seeded Connecticut in Phoenix on Thursday.

N.C. State (21-10), on the other hand, must deal with its third agonizing NCAA tournament loss in three years. In 2002, the Wolfpack lost a second-round game to Connecticut by three points. Last year, it lost to California by two in the first round.

Hodge, the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, fouled out with 2:44 remaining and his team leading 69-59.

"I can't believe how we lost this game," Hodge said. "It's unbelievable."

The Vanderbilt comeback seemed to stun everyone - not just Hodge. Twice in the game's final 3 1/2 minutes, a Wolfpack player fouled Freije as Freije attempted a three-pointer. Freije made all six of the foul shots.

But for N.C. State, it only got worse. With 1:51 to go, Marcus Melvin was whistled for an intentional foul on Vanderbilt's Corey Smith as Smith drove to the hoop on a fast break. The call appeared questionable, given that Melvin appeared to bump into Smith instead of flagrantly pushing Smith.

Smith made both of his foul shots, and on the Vanderbilt possession that followed, point guard Mario Moore made a three-pointer from the left wing to cut the N.C. State lead to 71-70.

A baseline jumper by Freije gave Vanderbilt a 72-71 lead, but N.C. State responded with two free throws by Ilian Evtimov, who led the Wolfpack with 28 points.

Smith gave Vanderbilt the lead for good with 21.1 seconds left after he made a backdoor cut to the basket. On the play, Moore fed Smith for a layup, which Smith converted despite an N.C. State foul.

Soon, it was over. A three-point attempt by N.C. State's Engin Atsur just before time expired was partially blocked by Vanderbilt's Scott Hundley, and the Commodores started to celebrate.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

VANDERBILT-Freije 8-15 11-11 31, Smith 3-7 3-3 10, Przybyszewski 4-7 3-4 13, Moore 6-12 1-1 16, Lakey 0-1 1-2 1, Holwerda 0-0 0-0 0, Cage 0-2 0-0 0, Hundley 2-3 0-0 4, Terrell 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 23-49 19-21 75.

NORTH CAROLINA STATE-Evtimov 10-13 3-4 28, Melvin 3-13 2-2 11, Collins 0-2 0-0 0, Atsur 6-14 0-0 14, Hodge 5-11 1-2 11, Bennerman 0-0 0-0 0, Watkins 3-4 0-0 9. Totals 27-57 6-8 73.

Half: Vanderbilt 31-28. 3-point goals-Vanderbilt 10-25 (Freije 4-8, Moore 3-5, Przybyszewski 2-4, Smith 1-4, Hundley 0-1, Lakey 0-1, Cage 0-2), N.C. State 13-31 (Evtimov 5-8, Watkins 3-3, Melvin 3-10, Atsur 2-7, Hodge 0-1, Collins 0-2). Fouled out-Hodge. Rebounds-Vanderbilt 27 (Moore 6), N.C. State 31 (Atsur 8). Assists-Vanderbilt 15 (Lakey 7), N.C. State 13 (Collins, Evtimov 4). Total fouls-Vanderbilt 13, N.C. State 20. A-15,640.

Regional highlights

Top performer: Matt Freije set a Vanderbilt tournament record with 31 points.

Big surprise: N.C. State gave the game away, twice fouling Freije on three-pointers, then picking up an intentional foul.

He said it: "I cannot believe we lost this game." -- N.C. State's Julius Hodge

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