PITTSBURGH, Pa. (WTVD) -- Walking out of the locker room Thursday night, BeeJay Anya turned to his coach and with a grin said, "What did I tell you?"
All Mark Gottfried could do was shake his head, grin, and nod.
Because Anya's game-winning shot helped keep the Wolfpack's season alive in the NCAA Tournament.
"It was a dream come true," freshman Malik-Abdul Abu said after the game. "Growing up and watching March Madness as a kid, and [then] to pull the win off? I woulnd't trade it for anything."
It was true test for a young team eager to avenge their Big Dance demons from recent years. The Wolfpack have not advanced past the second round since 2012, and it seemed like history would repeat itself during the first half of
Thursday's game versus LSU.
Sloppy play turned into ten nasty turnovers, and the Tigers' presence in the paint and on the boards helped momentum swing in LSU's way. Twenty-eight of LSU's first half points came in the paint, and sophomore Tim Quarterman was a big contributor. The Tigers guard shot 50 percent from the field and notched 10 points to silence a red section of Pack fans in Consol Energy Center.
Paired with the LSU's potent front court in Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey, the three players combined for an early 29 points and 18 boards and helped LSU hold a 22 to 12 rebounding advantage at the break.
Needless to say, NC State found itself in the same tricky spot that plagued the team in its ACC Tournament loss to Duke -- behind by double digits.
"At halftime, the coaches were like, 'It's do or die,'" said sophomore Anthony 'Cat' Barber. "We came out and we stopped them from doing everything they were doing in the first half."
The Pack's second half engine also started with Barber. The speedy sophomore has been credited by his teammates and coaches as the "spark" for this State squad down the stretch, and his slashing shots and clutch jumpers helped cut a 16-point deficit to just 10 with a little over seventeen minutes left in the second half.
After turning the ball over ten times in the first half, the Pack tighetened up handling and coughed up the ball just once in the second half, and bench minutes from BeeJay Anya and Kyle Washington helped State contain Martin and Mickey while providing a much-needed spark from the field. In the final six minutes, Kyle Washington's put-back slam and three-point shot in a span of just thirty seconds helped NC State climb within four.
"I didn't play well in the first half, so I said, 'I need to come back and play well for my teammates. It's not really about me,'" Washington said. "I was just ready to play. I was just being me, really."
The Tigers struggled down the stretch, missing their final 12 field goals, and it allowed State to stay within reach, even when the Wolfpack's key player, Trevor Lacey, struggled. A quiet night from the sharp-shooter hindered the team, but the junior's big fadeaway shot with 2:36 left to go cut it to a one-possesion game at 65-62.
Then it came down to the free throw line for LSU. The Tigers had a chance to put the game away but missed their last six free throws, including four chances from Mickey in the final 1:25.
"That kind of gave us momentum," Barber said. "Every time they missed, we just tried to get out in transition and run it and find people."
That's when NC State found BeeJay Anya.
Hampered by foul trouble all night long, the sophomore played smart in the paint and elevated for a crucial tip-in with 45 seconds left to put NC State within one. After a missed shot by Jordan Mickey, NC State had a chance to take the final shot.
The play was drawn up for Trevor Lacey, and why wouldn't it be? Lacey has saved State with game-winners this season, but instead, deferred to Anya with time winding down.
"I could have shot it, but the way the game was going for me offensively, I just wasn't comfortable taking that shot," Lacey said. "I'm not big on being that hero every [time]."
"In shoot-around, I try to work on my right and left hook," Anya said. "It came down to help me today."
With 0:01 seconds left, Anya threw up the most important hook shot of the season. The NC State players and fans held their breaths as the ball took a roll and tumbled in, providing the most exciting "Statement" from Pittsburgh all day.
"I joke around with my teammates all the time, like, you know, ' if we wanna win, give me the ball,'" Anya said, "It actually worked out so they'll never hear the end of it from me."
"I saw BeeJay, [and] I was going to get it back, but he saw an opening," Lacey said. They loaded up to me, and he made a good play."
"It was a confidence booster for me and the rest of my teammates, as well," Anya said, "so it was a great feeling."
That feeling of buzzer-beating relief won't last too long. The tournament only ramps up for NC State in the round of 32. The Wolfpack faces the tough task of trying to stop the East Region's top-seed, Villanova, on Saturday.
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