North Carolina State appeared long on motivation and short on patience at MCI Center yesterday. With a much-anticipated rematch with Wake Forest on the line and its NCAA tournament status still in doubt, the Wolfpack took care of matters in a hurry against Florida State, winning 70-54 in an ACC tournament first-round game.
The Wolfpack (18-12) scored the first 11 points and held a double-digit lead for most of the game. The victory put seventh-seeded N.C. State into tonight's 7 p.m. quarterfinal with the fourth-ranked and second-seeded Demon Deacons, who defeated seventh-seeded N.C. State, 55-53, in a contentious regular season finale on Sunday.
N.C. State's Julius Hodge wastes no time in driving to score against Florida State. Hodge, a senior, had 14 points and seven assists as the Wolfpack kept its NCAA tournament hopes alive.
(Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
The rematch will come five days after Wake Forest's Chris Paul made a shot at the buzzer to beat State -- after hitting Wolfpack star Julius Hodge in the groin in the first half, a transgression that earned Paul a suspension for tonight's quarterfinal.
"I was tremendously proud of them for the way they bounced back this week," N.C. State Coach Herb Sendek said of his players. "I think it was a direct reflection of . . . the way they approached this game with focus, quiet determination and a real sense of purpose."
Junior forward Ilian Evtimov sparked N.C. State's fast start with five first-half three-pointers and finished with a game-high 18 points. Hodge, a senior swingman, had 14 points and seven assists and sophomore guard Engin Atsur had 17 points and nine rebounds.
N.C. State made 8 of 19 three-pointers in the first half, while making 4 of 8 two-pointers. Evtimov didn't make a three-pointer in the second half, but his total -- which he reached with 4 minutes 6 seconds left in the first half -- tied a career high.
"Every open look Evtimov got, he knocked it down," Florida State Coach Leonard Hamilton said. "Now, sometimes, that's a little unusual."
When Atsur sank a three-pointer with 13:34 left, N.C. State had its biggest lead at 48-24. Florida State chipped away from that point, cutting the advantage to 59-51 on a layup from Al Thornton with 2:49 left.
But the Seminoles would get no closer. N.C. State made two layups, a dunk and 5 of 6 free throws in the final 2:34 to keep Florida State at bay.
Anthony Richardson led Florida State with 16 points. The Seminoles' season ended at 12-19 -- a step backward for a team that went 19-14 last year and seemed to be on the rise under Hamilton, in his third year at Tallahassee.
"We've been through this before," said Hamilton, who coached the Washington Wizards during the 2000-01 season. "I'm extremely confident we can be a program of significance in the ACC."
N.C. State, whose only losses since Feb. 10 have come to North Carolina and Wake Forest (twice), enter tonight's rematch with a degree of confidence, as well. The Wolfpack's defense has been a strength lately, and tonight it won't have to contend with the suspended Paul.
N.C. State players called the play "a cheap shot" and "a dirty play" in published reports this week, but Hodge, Evtimov and Sendek were obvious in their determination to steer clear of the incident in a postgame news conference.
"I'm just happy we got the win against Florida State, and I'm looking forward to the game tomorrow," Hodge said.
Note: N.C. State guard Tony Bethel (Montrose Christian) pulled his groin early in the second half and did not return. Sendek said he was not sure if Bethel would be able to play tonight.