- Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer
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“We just didn’t want to give up,” Saint Louis forward Rob Loe said. “We didn’t want to end on that kind of note. We just wanted to keep playing.”
The No. 12-seeded Wolfpack led by eight points with 90 seconds to go and by six points with one minute left.
“We had to keep fighting,” Billikens guard Jordair Jett said. “It was all or nothing. If you lose, you go home. If you win, you advance in the tournament. We had to keep playing.”
Somehow, the Billikens fought until the very end, erasing the aforementioned deficits in regulation in one of the most memorable comebacks in recent NCAA tournament history, and then pulling away from the Wolfpack for an 83-80 victory in overtime.
Saint Louis, which dropped four of its previous five games after winning 19 straight, including a 71-68 loss to St. Bonaventure in the A-10 tourney, advanced to play in Saturday’s third round, where it will meet the winner of Thursday night’s game between No. 4 seed Louisville and No. 13 seed Manhattan.
“I can’t salute these guys enough in terms of how they just stayed with it,” Saint Louis coach Jim Crews said. “I don’t know how many we were down late, but we were down plenty late. They just stayed with it. Obviously, our press gave us a little energy. We got a few buckets out of that, and that picked up things for us and we had guys making big plays down the stretch.”
Saint Louis fans won’t forget the Billikens’ comeback anytime soon, but they certainly had plenty of help in erasing NC State’s wide margin. After the Wolfpack took a 59-45 lead on ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren’s layup with 5:03 to play, NC State came apart at the seams. The Wolfpack missed 12 of 21 foul shots and had three turnovers in the final five minutes of regulation.
“Well, it’s heartbreaking,” NC State coach Mark Gottfried said. “Obviously, we’re going to always feel like we let one slip away.”
With the Wolfpack holding a 65-57 lead with about 1½ minutes left in regulation, Loe drained a 3-pointer and then Grandy Glaze stole the in-bounds pass and scored on a layup to cut NC State’s lead to 65-62 with 1:14 remaining. After NC State pulled back ahead 68-63 in the final minute of regulation, the Wolfpack missed two straight foul shots and then Saint Louis’ Jake Barnett made a long 3-pointer to make it 68-66 with 47.2 seconds left.
“We knew that we were right there, and coach has been saying all week, it doesn’t matter if you’re up 10 or down 10,” Barnett said. “Obviously, we were down a lot, but we kept fighting and kept battling. The thing that was cool is guys came in off the bench and made great plays. Everybody stepped up, made big shots, and we were just able to cash in down the stretch.”
After Barnett’s deep 3-pointer in front of the Saint Louis bench, the Billikens fouled NC State’s Anthony Barber, who made one of two foul shots to make it 69-66 with 45 seconds left. Loe quickly made a layup to cut it to 69-68 with 35 seconds remaining, and then the Billikens fouled Warren, who made one of two foul shots for a 70-68 lead with 28 seconds to go.
Jett tied the score at 70-70 on a layup and was fouled by Warren with 18 seconds left, but he missed a free throw that would have ended the game in regulation.
“That’s probably the weirdest turn of events that I’ve ever been a part of,” Loe said.
In overtime, the Wolfpack trailed 81-80 when Warren missed a foul shot for a three-point play with 38 seconds left. Earlier in overtime, one of Warren’s foul shots was wiped out when he committed a lane violation.
The Wolfpack made only 20 of 37 foul shots in the game.
“It’s hard to explain,” Gottfried said. “We’re a good foul-shooting team. We’ve been a good foul-shooting team here recently, and it kind of steamrolled on us there from the foul line.”
Once the Billikens were rolling, NC State seemingly could only watch.
“It was definitely tough,” NC State guard Ralston Turner said. “At one point we had the lead and things were going our way. We had a 10-point lead and they started fouling. They just extended the game. We started missing a lot of free throws, and a lot of uncharacteristic things started happening.”