Had Trevor Lacey's running 3-pointer come even a tenth of a second or two earlier Sunday afternoon, he'd have rescued NC State from a humbling home loss.
Instead referees reviewed the shot and correctly ruled Lacey hadn't released the ball before the clock struck triple zeroes, dooming the Wolfpack to a 55-54 upset at the hands of Wofford.
NC State needed heroics from Lacey because the Wolfpack couldn't hold a nine-point second-half lead over a Wofford team that reached the NCAA tournament last year and is favored to win the Southern Conference this season. The two teams traded the lead during the final minute until Justin Gordon scored a contested layup off a baseline inbound pass, giving Wofford a one-point lead with 1.9 seconds to go and paving the way for a wild finish.
Lacey caught a long inbound pass at mid-court, took one dribble and launched what appeared to be a game-winning 25 footer from the top of the key, sending the NC State bench spilling onto the floor to mob the Alabama transfer. The celebration died down when referees huddled around the monitor for several minutes before waving the shot off, leaving Lacey with his hands on his head and his mouth agape.
NC State fell to 8-2 heading into its toughest stretch of the non-conference season beginning with a visit from Tennessee on Wednesday. Wofford improved to 8-2 with its only losses coming at Stanford and at Colonial Athletic Association favorite William & Mary.
Though replays seemed to confirm the Lacey call was correct, it has to irk NC State fans that Sunday's game, of all games, came down to a decision by the referees.
Sunday marked referee Karl Hess' first NC State game since he made national news by ejecting Wolfpack legends Tom Gugliotta and Chris Corchiani from their courtside seats in Feb. 2012. Corchiani said at the time that he and Gugliotta merely told the referees they were "having a bad game" and there was "no profanity" involved.
NC State athletic director Debbie Yow issued a statement after that game that made it clear she wasn't at all pleased by the removal of her school's two former stars.
"Throughout this afternoon and evening, I have been seeking clarification from the ACC office regarding the reason for the ejection of two fans today during our men's basketball game against Florida State," Yow said. "I have spoken to commissioner John Swofford and Karl Hicks, associate commissioner for basketball operations, regarding our concerns and our need for clarification as to why this occurred. We expect fair treatment of our fans at State athletic events."
A chorus of boos greeted Hess before Sunday's game and they got louder when he whistled NC State coach Mark Gottfried for a technical foul just over four minutes into the first half.
Wolfpack fans should have no argument with the game-ending call though. Much to Lacey's chagrin, his shot was just a tenth of a second late.
(Thanks for the video, College Basketball Talk)
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