No. 1 Villanova picked the worst possible time to put forth its poorest shooting performance of the season, and the end result is an early exit from the NCAA tournament. But even with that being the case, there’s a reason why the Wildcats struggled for most of the game and that reason is NC State.
Trevor Lacey led four Wolfpack in double figures with 17 points and forwards Abdul-Malik Abu and Lennard Freeman spearheaded a dominant effort on the boards as the Wolfpack held on for the 71-68 victory. With the win Mark Gottfried becomes the first coach in NCAA tournament history to pick up two wins over a one-seed as an 8 or 9 seed, with the first coming in 2004 when he was the head coach at Alabama.
NC State’s goal was to make Villanova take challenged two-point shots as opposed to the three-pointers that pushed the Wildcats to 32 wins and Big East regular season and tournament titles. Not only did NC State force Villanova into its worst three-point shooting performance of the season (9-for-28), but they also limited the Wildcats to 10-for-43 shooting inside of the arc.
Outside of Darrun Hilliard, who scored 24 points and hit some big shots to give Villanova life late, and freshman Phil Booth, Jay Wright’s team had a hard time finding (and connecting) on much Saturday night. Ryan Arcidiacono and Dylan Ennis combined to score ten points on 4-for-20 shooting from the field, missing all nine of their three-point attempts.
Add in Daniel Ochefu’s rough night around the basket, in which the length and athleticism of the NC State front court made it incredibly tough for him to connect on much of anything, and Villanova found itself in a hole it had trouble crawling out of. On multiple occasions when Villanova got close, either Barber, Lacey or Desmond Lee made a play. As for the rebounding, Abu (13 points, 12 rebounds) and Freeman (11 points, 12 rebounds) were outstanding.
NC State managed to rebound 39.4 percent of its missed shots, and they grabbed as many defensive rebounds as Villanova had total rebounds (32). Villanova made its run with characteristics such as effort and toughness, and Saturday night the Wildcats were outclassed in both areas.
As for Villanova, what could have been a special season ends in the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. And with no trips past the second weekend since their 2009 Final Four appearance, this will supply the program’s critics with another piece of evidence. But even though Villanova was the top seed, NC State deserves to be the focus. Mark Gottfried has a team that talent-wise is much better than an 8-seed, but as is the case with most teams that land on that seed line consistency has been an issue.
If they can put together a complete game the Wolfpack can be dangerous, and that’s been said all season long. Outside of a wild crosscourt pass in the final minute, NC State did that against Villanova. As a result, they’ll be in Syracuse next week for the East Regional.