If North Carolina State misses the NCAA tournament for the sixth straight season Sunday, the Wolfpack may remember a disputed non-call in Saturday's ACC semifinal against North Carolina as the play that cost them a bid.
With the score tied at 67 apiece and 10 seconds to go, North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall appeared to lower his shoulder into Alex Johnson in an attempt to create space, knocking the NC State defender to the ground. Referees didn't whistle a foul, so Marshall sank a wide-open bank shot in the paint, providing the final margin in the Tar Heels' 69-67 victory.
That NC State coach Mark Gottfried and his team were so incensed about the non-call was a product of the implications of the game. Not only could the Wolfpack have advanced to the ACC title game and snapped a 12-game game losing streak to their hated rivals, they also could have essentially locked up an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
Because of the loss, however, North Carolina State (22-12, 9-7) will have an angst-ridden 24-hour wait until Sunday's selection show.
An ACC quarterfinal win over Virginia and a regular season sweep of fellow bubble hopeful Miami may yet earn NC State an at-large bid, but the Wolfpack's tournament resume is hardly unassailable. Their lone non-league win of note came over youthful Texas in November and they went 0-for-5 against the ACC's power trio, North Carolina, Duke and Florida State.
Having a key call go against North Carolina State will surely inspire conspiracy theorists to note the public tiff between the school and the ACC over referee Karl Hess ejecting Wolfpack legends Chris Corchiani and Tom Gugliotta from a February game. Gottfried slammed both Hess and the league afterward, calling the ejections "weak" and "completely out of line 100 percent."
"I'm disappointed quite frankly in the ACC because not only did he throw out two of North Carolina State's greats, he threw out two of the ACC's greats," Gottfried said at a pep rally. "The league is supporting an official rather than supporting former great players. The former great players, in my opinion, were embarrassed and wronged when they shouldn't have been."
Tempting as it may be for NC State to put all the blame for Saturday's loss on the call that went in favor of the Tar Heels, the reality is the Wolfpack made costly mistakes down the stretch that contributed to the loss.
C.J. Leslie, NC State's leading scorer, fouled out with eight minutes to go in the game after getting two quick fouls in less than a minute. The Wolfpack stayed in it behind the play of Lorenzo Brown down the stretch, but costly turnovers by Johnson and Scott Wood on their last two possessions contributed to the loss.
The Wolfpack got one more crack with a length-of-the-court inbound play with 1.2 seconds left but Richard Howell could not get off a shot. A frustrated Howell insisted he got fouled on the play and had to be pulled away from going after an official by several of his teammates.
Whether or not that non-call was correct wasn't as clear-cut as the previous play involving Marshall and Johnson. Regardless, if the Wolfpack don't hear their name called on Sunday, NC State fans probably won't be a forgiving group.
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