LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP)—Gavin Grant remembered what it felt like when North Carolina State lost at the wire.
Heartbreaking, then exhausting.
He helped the Wolfpack return the favor Sunday night, hitting two of three free throws with 0.4 seconds left to beat No. 20 Villanova 69-68 in the Old Spice Classic championship.
It was N.C. State’s second down-to-the-wire game in a week. The Wolfpack lost to New Orleans Nov. 18 on a last-second 3 that knocked it out of the Top 25.
“I was relieved because we didn’t have to have one of those practices again. After the New Orleans game, we had a track practice,” Grant said. “I was just happy for me and my teammates that we don’t have to go through that again.”
The Wildcats (4-1) seemed to clinch the win when Dante Cunningham tipped in a missed layup with 2.2 seconds remaining, but Cunningham fouled Grant the next trip on a 3-point attempt.
Grant missed the first free throw, then drained the next two to seal the win. Villanova’s full-court inbound pass bounced off several hands, then up and off the backboard as time expired.
“This was a great tournament for us,” Wolfpack coach Sidney Lowe said. “I think we grew a lot in a four-day, five-day period, just being away and just us together down here in this event.”
Courtney Fells had 21 points for N.C. State (4-1), while J.J. Hickson and Grant each added 15.
Freshman Corey Fisher almost single-handedly kept Villanova close. He scored 21, several on impressive floaters from acrobatic drives in the lane. Scottie Reynolds added 13 points and Casiem Drummond had 17 rebounds and nine points before fouling out.
Shane Clark, Villanova’s second-leading scorer with 15 points a game, went down hard in the first half with a strained quadriceps and didn’t return. He had two points on 1-for-3 shooting.
The teams played tight all game, with six ties and 18 lead changes.
The Wildcats’ pesky defense and full-court press forced N.C. State into 22 turnovers, 16 of them in the first half. The Wolfpack were averaging nearly a turnover a minute deep into the period, but Villanova couldn’t create much separation.
“This is why you play in these tournaments and get this experience,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “I wish we didn’t have to learn this way, but we do.”
The Wildcats missed their first six shots and fell behind 7-0. They claimed their first lead at 15-14 midway through the first half.
N.C. State closed with a 15-4 run to take a 38-33 lead at halftime. Fells scored eight of those points on a 3-pointer, three free throws after drawing a foul on another 3 and a put-back dunk.
For the third straight game, Lowe used McDonald’s All-American freshman and leading scorer J.J. Hickson off the bench. Hickson didn’t attempt his first shot until 15 minutes into the game, but finished with 15 points and six rebounds.
The Wolfpack were having trouble assimilating him into the offense, and Hickson’s minutes dipped under 30 the two games after the loss. Lowe said it was too early to tell how he’d use the freshman down the road.
“Right now I’m trying to win ball games,” Lowe said. “You saw it tonight — we didn’t really care who got it done.”