- Robbi Pickeral, College Basketball
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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- NC State’s upperclassmen well remember the intestine-churning anxiety of entering the ACC tournament on the NCAA bubble, of knowing that each win or loss would impact their chances of making the field of 68.
Thus, they understood Virginia’s plight Friday.
And they showed absolutely no sympathy.
Wolfpack wing Scott Wood lit it up from the outside (23 points, seven 3-pointers), big man Richard Howell (12 rebounds, six points) dominated the boards despite a late first-half thigh injury, and forward C.J. Leslie recorded another double-double en route to a 75-56 blowout in the ACC quarterfinals.
Fifth-seeded NC State (24-9), which has found its “groove” according to coach Mark Gottfried and appears to be in pretty safe territory for at least an at-large NCAA bid, will play top-seeded Miami in the semifinals on Saturday.
The Cavaliers (21-11), who shot only 38.9 percent, got outrebounded by 11 and saw their leading scorer, Joe Harris, make only 4 of his 13 shots, are left to wait and wonder about their bubble hopes. They now have lost three of their past four games.
“If we play like this, we don’t deserve to play in the NCAA tournament,” Virginia guard Jontel Evans said. “If we play the way we play like Duke and Maryland and North Carolina, we should deserve to play.”
And there’s the conundrum for the NCAA selection committee.
While the Cavs boast quality regular-season wins over Duke, NC State, UNC and Wisconsin, they also have seven losses to teams outside of the RPI top 100, including three CAA teams (George Mason, Delaware and Old Dominion) and four of the ACC's worst (Georgia Tech, Boston College, Wake Forest and Clemson).
At the beginning of Friday, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi projected the Cavs as a No. 12 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament, and this loss didn’t help.
“What will be, will be,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “We have some quality wins, we have some bad losses and who knows what will happen. I’m sure people won’t give us much of a chance. The committee will make their decision.
“[Winning] this would have helped and I thought we had the right mindset going in. We prepared hard and knew the keys.”
Even so, NC State dominated from the outset, beating the Cavs at what they are usually known for: defense. The Wolfpack held Virginia to 31.2 percent shooting and just a 1-for-10 tally on 3-pointers in the first half.
The Wolfpack led 30-21 at halftime, and a Wood-centric 11-4 run (he had three 3-pointers) to open the second half gave them a 41-25 cushion. The Cavs never cut to within single digits after that. Not with Howell -- who got kneed in the right thigh twice, but kept battling in the lane despite a limp -- continuing to pull down rebounds. And not with Leslie and Wood continuing to hit shots.
“It was a really good win for our team,” Gottfried said. “I think our team is beginning to find that groove; I think we’re getting in a good spot.”
And a slightly different spot than a season ago, when the Wolfpack knew they had to keep winning to secure an NCAA berth. Although they lost in the ACC semifinals last year, they were the last team announced on the selection show -- and ended up in the Sweet 16.
With even bigger goals in mind this time around, they’re aiming for even bigger wins -- and longer tournament runs.
Which means no sympathy for Virginia, or anyone else.
“No, definitely not,” Howell said, smiling. “We know how it felt, we were in their shoes last year … but our focus is on what we can do.”