CHARLOTTE — The waiting has begun for the NC State basketball team.
The Wolfpack could have ended all doubt about its place in the NCAA tournament’s 68-team field Thursday by beating top-seeded and second-ranked Virginia in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament.
But after falling victim to the combination of Kyle Guy’s long-range shooting, the Cavaliers’ trademark defense and some tired second half legs in a 76-56 loss at Spectrum Center, State has officially placed its postseason hopes into the hands of the NCAA selection committee.
Not that coach Kevin Keatts is worried.
“If the selection crew values what they’ve said all year long, then there shouldn’t be any issues with us,” he said after his team completed its resume with a 22-11 record. “We’ve always talked about Quad 1 and Quad 2 wins, and we just played the No. 1 NET team in the country.
“We’re 9-9 in Quad 1 and Quad 2 games and we went into this game with a NET of 32. So I like my guys’ chances.”
He probably liked his team’s chances against the Cavaliers, too, when he walked off the court at halftime with the Wolfpack holding a 29-27 lead.
But as the State coach said afterward, when it comes to the postseason, most games come down to “players making plays.”
A day earlier, that player was Markell Johnson, who willed the Wolfpack to the second-largest comeback in tournament history in an opening round win against Clemson that may or may not have clinched an NCAA bid.
Thursday, the man of the hour turned out to be Guy.
The UVa marksman, whose shooting kept his team close early, took over in the second half by hitting four of his seven 3-pointers after the intermission on the way to 29 points. Unheralded big man Jack Salt added a career-high 18 points and six rebounds, as the Cavaliers (29-2) pulled away by outscoring State 49-27 over the final 20 minutes.
“I thought Kyle Guy’s performance was as good as I’ve seen this year as far as a guy playing well against us,” said Keatts, who also praised Salt’s contribution, especially from the free throw line. “When you look at his percentages, I don’t care who they play today. If he would have shot 7 for 9 (from three) and 10 for 13 (overall), it was going to be hard to beat them today.”
The Wolfpack might have stood a better chance at holding off UVa had it take better advantage of its opportunities during a first half in which it held the Cavaliers for six minutes without a field goal and forced six turnovers.
State did run off an 18-2 spurt that included 14 straight points, fueled by freshman D.J. Funderburk’s work around the rim. But it could have done even more damage.
While UVa. was going those six minutes and eight possessions without a field goal, the Wolfpack was only able to score once — on a drive by Torin Dorn that gave it a 26-22 lead with just under four minutes left in the half.
“We definitely left some opportunities on the table in the first half where we could have gone up more,” Dorn said. “We missed some shots we usually make. Anytime in a game like that, you can’t go four minutes without scoring and expect to win.”
UVa showed why early in the second half by running off a game-breaking 22-6 spurt that included two three-point plays by Salt and a four-point play by Guy. Things unraveled even further when Funderburk, who scored 10 of his 12 points in the first half got poked in the eye by the Cavaliers’ Mamadi Diakite.
With Funderburk on the bench and the shots not falling — State made just three of its 20 3-point attempts — hopes for a similar comeback to the one that beat Clemson quickly faded.
Wednesday’s hero Johnson led the Wolfpack with 13 points and made two of his team’s three treys. But foursome of Dorn, C.J. Bryce, Braxton Beverly and Devon Daniels combined to go just 1 for 11 on 3-pointers, with the only make coming with just nine seconds left.
State also shot only 50 percent (8 of 16) from the free throw line in the second half, a sign that fatigue may have become a factor after two intense games in two days.
“They just played better than us,” Keatts said. “They made plays, they got one-and-ones, they made their free throws. For us in the second half, we didn’t get those breaks.”
And now they have to wait until Sunday to learn their NCAA tournament fate.
“I think our resume speaks for itself,” graduate center Wyatt Walker said. “ I think we play in the toughest conference in the country and we’ve had some hard-fought games. Wherever we play and whatever tournament it is, we’re just happy to have the opportunity to play.”