WORCESTER, Mass., March 20 -- The tears that always seemed to flow down Julius Hodge's cheeks at the end of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament were nowhere to be seen Sunday, following N.C. State's second-round game against second-seeded Connecticut. Instead, a huge grin was plastered across the senior's face, thanks to the Wolfpack's 65-62 upset of the defending national champion.
Hodge provided the winning points for the Wolfpack by driving past U-Conn. freshman Rudy Gay, who slipped, and then going hard to the basket for a layup and a foul. Hodge made the ensuing free throw with 4.3 seconds left on the clock, and after U-Conn. sophomore Marcus Williams's desperation three-point shot barely reached the rim, he bounded across the floor of DCU Center in celebration.
The Wolfpack defense swarms around Connecticut's Hilton Armstrong as N.C. State springs a 65-62 upset of the Huskies on Sunday.
(Frank Franklin II - AP)
"I was very determined today," said Hodge, who finished with 17 points and six assists. "No one believed that this could happen. It just feels so good to get to this point."
Tenth-seeded N.C. State (21-13) advanced to the round of 16 for the first time since 1989 and will face sixth-seeded Wisconsin on Friday in the Syracuse Region.
The win was especially sweet for the Wolfpack, considering its previous heartbreak in second-round games. Last year, N.C. State blew a late 11-point lead, and Hodge fouled out in a 75-73 loss to Vanderbilt. Three years ago, Hodge -- then a freshman -- committed a costly late foul in the final seconds of N.C. State's 77-74 loss to U-Conn.
"I didn't have any flashbacks" of those games, Hodge said. "That was the past, this is the present. Rudy was coming down the court, he started clapping his hands, and I just said, 'Let's go.' There was no way we were going to be denied today. Big-time players have to step up and make big-time plays, and you saw that today."
U-Conn., meantime, didn't get much offense from anyone other than Williams (22 points) and sophomore forward Charlie Villanueva (16 points). Reserve forward Ed Nelson was the only front-court player other than Villanueva who played with any sort of energy, and he had nine points in 13 minutes. Gay, the Big East co-rookie of the year, missed four of the five shots he took and had only four points.
Two weeks ago, the Huskies (23-8) appeared poised for another run to the Final Four, as they blasted their way through the final nine games of their conference schedule. But they didn't play well in the Big East tournament, falling in the semifinals to Syracuse, and they weren't particularly sharp in their 77-71 first-round tournament victory over 15th-seeded Central Florida on Friday.
Neither Rashad Anderson nor Denham Brown, two of the Huskies' top five scorers, were at full strength, and it showed. Anderson (who missed seven games following complications from a skin abscess on his leg) finished with five points on 2-of-8 shooting, and Brown (who injured his knee against Georgetown late in the season) was held scoreless for the first time this season.
"This is one of the first times in my coaching career that we ran out of gas and bullets," said Coach Jim Calhoun, whose Huskies followed up their 1999 championship with a second-round loss in 2000 to Tennessee. "We just didn't seem to be the same the last two weeks."
The Wolfpack led by 11 points with 5 minutes 8 seconds to play after Cameron Bennerman (15 points) made a wide-open three-pointer from the left corner. U-Conn., behind Villanueva and Nelson, fought back with an 11-1 run over the next three minutes to cut the lead to 57-56 with 2:16 remaining.
But N.C. State made the big plays down the stretch to seal the victory. Bennerman grabbed a crucial offensive rebound -- against the best rebounding team in the country -- off of a miss by Jordan Collins, and that led to a three-pointer from freshman Andrew Brackman that gave the Wolfpack a 62-58 advantage with 1:04 left.
Two free throws by Williams brought the Huskies back to within two with a minute to play, and then Villanueva put back a miss by Williams to tie the score at 62 with 15 seconds on the clock. That set up Hodge's final drive.