ORLANDO, Fla. – It was 16. Then it was 9. Then it was 6. Then it was 3, and 2.
Then it was bedlam.
The Saint Louis Billikens, who had gone from favorite before tip-off to doomed at halftime, rallied from a 16-point deficit to beat N.C. State in perhaps the most frenzied (and perplexing) comeback/meltdown in March Madness history. What's more: they were trailing by 14 with just 5:03 left.
The drama, which carried into a completely unexpected overtime, was fueled by two elements: shrewd coaching by St. Louis and horrendous free throw shooting by the Wolfpack. The Billikens kept hacking State players, and the State players kept clanking their supposed reward for getting fouled. N.C. State made only 54 percent of its 37 free throws in the game. St. Louis inched back into contention with steady shooting as the clock eked slowly toward the end of the second half, and all of a sudden the molasses-like momentum had snowballed into a maelstrom. A lethargic Amway Center heavy with Florida fans was suddenly berserk with Billikens. The scary-looking St. Louis mascot actually did a jig when regulation ended.
In overtime, it was Jordair Jett and Rob Loe carrying the play to the beleaguered Wolfpack, who had to lean on NBA prospect T.J. Warren to keep it close. It wasn’t enough. Fifth-seed St. Louis did in the extra session what the 12-seed team couldn’t do in regulation: close it out. And nearly 31 years after Jim Valvano led N.C. State to one of the most memorable upsets in college basketball history, the underdog Wolfpack collapsed in historic fashion.
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