Point blank misses, cold shooting from three, and an on-the-ball Wolfpack team managed to keep Villanova from advancing to the Sweet 16 as North Carolina State upset Villanova 71-68 on Saturday night.
Darrun Hilliard shot like his college career depended on it, hitting two 3-pointers in the final minute-plus to make it a 2-point game with 37 seconds remaining. NC State threw the ball away, but Dylan Ennis missed an open shot from deep. Hilliard nailed yet another dagger from deep to bring it down to one point with 1.4 seconds left.
Down three with the final shot, a desperation heave was not caught.
NC State opened with sloppy play, with three early turnovers that kept them from playing efficiently. However, Villanova was unable to capitalize, missing multiple point-blank looks and starting out 1 for 7 from the field.
The cold shooting continued for about 10 minutes, as the Wildcats seemed a little impatient and took shots earlier in the shot clock than normal. There was also less driving and kicking followed by the extra pass, a stiple of the Villanova offense. Ochefu was blocked and Hilliard mishandled the ball on a drive, giving NC State some early confidence.
The 'Cats luck gradually changed as Hilliard and Booth both hit 3-pointers off the dribble, drawing them to within two points. Hilliard and Ennis added layups around and over BeeJay Anya, the Wolfpack's dominant shot-blocker, and Villanova was able to tie the game up at 17 with just over eight minutes to go in the first half.
Hart sat early with two fouls he drew in less than a minute, but in his first possession back on the court he skied for an offensive rebound that led to a made jumper by Arch. Free throws by Pinkston, Ennis, and Ochefu gave Villanova repeated one-possession leads but the Wolfpack climbed back.
Hilliard "fouled" Caleb Martin on a 3-pointer and the 4-point play negated Booth's earlier 3-ball, and Ochefu was blocked by Anya with five seconds left. Lacey drove down the court and nailed a three as time expired giving the Wolfpack a 31-27 lead at halftime.
Hilliard, even with the minor mental lapses, was one of the best players on the court for 'Nova at the break, leading all scorers with 12 points. Booth added six on 2-2 from deep. Everyone else combined for 2-17 from the field, and 0-6 from beyond the arc.
The second half didn't cure any shooting woes, as Ochefu missed a point-blank dunk and the 'Cats turned it over on their next possession. Bridging the two halves, NC State went on an extended 20-5 run that gave them a 12-point lead with 13 minutes to go.
An Ennis and-1 bucket followed by a Booth 3-pointer appeared to shift the tides. Ennis missed multiple wide-open jumpers on the possession but offensive rebounds allowed Booth a chance.
Slowly but surely, Hart and Arch put in layups that cut the lead down to six before the under-8 media timeout. In addition to the two fouls, it appeared as though Mark Gottfried's plan was to cut out Hart from the gameplan. As the second half progressed, Hart and Arch looked to start creating their own shots. We hadn't previously seen Arch look this determined for his own shot in a long time.
The Wolfpack continued to score just often enough to keep Villanova from truly flipping the momentum. Hilliard's pump-fake 3-pointer gave him free throws, the first of which gave him 1500 career points, cutting the lead down to six. By this point, both teams were in the double bonus.
A Hart transition and-1 made the score 59-54 with 3:51 left. Pinkston managed to put back a blocked shot for an and-1 to bring the deficit to three, but Lacey and Barber hit a jumper and running layup to push the lead back to seven with 1:37 left.