March 20, 2005

North Carolina State Defeats Connecticut 65-62

March 20, 2005

By JOHN KEKIS
AP Sports Writer

WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) - Julius Hodge looked up and saw Rudy Gay smiling with the game on the line. There was no way Hodge would let the Connecticut freshman stand there smirking as the final seconds ticked away.

So the flashy North Carolina State senior made his move. He darted past Gay - leaving him sprawled on the floor - and scored on a slashing drive with 4.3 seconds left to break a 62-all tie and send the Wolfpack past the defending national champions 65-62 Sunday in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

"He started clapping his hands and smiling," said Hodge, who finished with 17 points and six assists. "I just felt like there was no way I was going to be denied."

Hodge was fouled on the play by Ed Nelson and completed the three-point play. The Wolfpack survived after Marcus Williams missed a desperation 3-pointer from the top of the key at the buzzer.

North Carolina State (21-13), the 10th seed in the Syracuse Regional, advances to the regional semifinals for the first time since 1989 and will play the winner of Bucknell-Wisconsin.

No team has repeated since Duke in 1991-92, but the second-seeded Huskies (23-8) seemed almost a lock to at least move past the second round. They went into the game 27-0 against teams seeded sixth or lower in the tournament. And in 19 years under coach Jim Calhoun, they were 23-2 in the first two rounds of the tournament, reaching the regional semifinals 13 times.

But UConn was plagued by a series of injuries and illnesses. Two backup point guards were lost this season, and outside ace Rashad Anderson returned to the lineup last week after battling a life-threatening illness brought on by complications from a skin infection.

The Huskies just wilted at the end.

"We ran out of bullets and energy. We had no more bullets," Calhoun said. "For one of the few times in my coaching career, we ran out of gas, and North Carolina State was able to take advantage of that. You need bullets to win games, guys that can make plays, that are healthy enough to."

The loss also was a setback for the Big East conference, which has lost four teams so far, including a No. 2 seed and two No. 4 seeds.

Hodge shouted, "I told you so! I told you so!" to his fans at the buzzer with a huge smile on his face, after what surely must be one of the best victories of his career. As a freshman three years ago in the tournament, Hodge fouled Caron Butler in the final minute, Butler made three foul shots, and Connecticut escaped with a three-point victory. Hodge also missed a desperation 3-pointer that would have forced overtime.

"No one believed it could happen," Hodge said in the locker room, ice bags covering both knees. "It feels that much better because no one believed."

Cameron Bennerman had his second straight solid game with 15 points, Ilian Evtimov had 11 before fouling out with 2:16 left, and Andrew Brackman had 10 points for the Wolfpack.

Williams, playing on a sore ankle he hurt in the first round against Central Florida, led the Huskies with a career-high 22 points, and Charlie Villanueva had 16 points and 12 rebounds. Gay, who was averaging 12 points, had early foul trouble and finished with only four points. Anderson made only 1-of-5 3-pointers and finished with five points, and Josh Boone had four.

N.C. State started the season 10-1, but injuries and illness of its own sent the team into a 3-9 tailspin that prompted fans to call for head coach Herb Sendek to be fired. When the Wolfpack beat fifth-ranked Wake Forest in the ACC quarterfinals, though, it was assured of an at-large bid.

"This team has had a quiet confidence throughout, certainly not overconfidence, clearly not arrogance, but a quiet confidence," Sendek said. "I'm happy for our guys. This is a shared, special moment."

N.C. State's deliberate offense thwarted the Huskies from running their uptempo game. UConn was unable to connect from the outside - it was 2-for-14 on 3-pointers, making both in the first half - so it was in trouble when Bennerman hit a 3 to give the Wolfpack a 56-45 lead with 5:10 left.

But UConn had plenty of fight left. Nelson hit a jumper in the lane, Villanueva converted a three-point play, and Williams fed Boone for an alley-oop dunk as UConn closed to 57-54 with 2:56 left. Villanueva tied the game at 62 with 15.8 seconds left, but Hodge had the final say.

"They hit a couple of big shots, but we got back in the game," Villanueva said. "We should have never been in that position, but we never gave up."