RALEIGH — NC State could have had a magical night against Marquette on Monday.
The Wolfpack 1973-74 national championship team brought the RBC Center house down when they took the court led by the legendary David Thompson and Tom Burleson at halftime.
NC State was playing Big East power Marquette tooth and nail, leading 35-32 at halftime. NCSU coach Sidney Lowe even was sporting the famed red jacket on the sideline.
None of that seemed to matter or affect Marquette senior point guard Dominic James in the waning seconds. The senior point guard tried to go right, but NC State center Ben McCauley jumped him on a switch. James reversed to his left, lost Wolfpack point guard Farnold Degand in the process and drained a long three-pointer with 0.4 seconds left to give Marquette a 68-65 non-conference win.
"Their big men reversed the screen and he brushed me, and he [James] was able to drive directly off that screen, and that's why he came off so open," Degand said. "I had him in front of me until that screen on the other side. He just hit that open shot.
"When I felt that screen, I definitely knew something bad was about to happen. I knew he was going to come off, and it was definitely a heart-breaking moment for me."
NC State coach Sidney Lowe was frustrated by the defensive breakdown.
"We knew exactly what they were going to do [at the end of the game]," Lowe said. "We changed our defense to try and block [James]. He reversed his dribble and got the three. We made the mistake and he made us pay for it. He made plays a senior of his caliber would."
James' three-pointer was one of several big shots for the 5-foot-11 point guard. He hit back-to-back three-pointers to extend Marquette's lead to 65-49 with 3:03 remaining in the game. James went 4 of 6 from three-point range to finish with 18 points, six assists and four rebounds.
The Wolfpack showed their heart by storming back from the six-point deficit. Senior small forward Courtney Fells drained a three-pointer, and redshirt junior power forward Brandon Costner also connected from long range with 1:56 left to tie the game 65-65.
"They were big and we needed them to get back in," Costner said. "We weren't thinking at the time how big they were, but we knew we needed to make a push for the lead. We made the shots, we were lucky to make shots.
"Then we lost focus and gave the game away."
Neither team scored until James' heroics, but McCauley failed to take advantage on two free-throw attempts with 1:19 left in the game that could have added more pressure on the Golden Eagles.
"To have them come in here and beat us on our home court really stings," McCauley said. "We felt like we were in the game."
Costner's clutch three-pointer was part of a monster night for the inside-outside threat. He scored a game-high 24 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead the Wolfpack. The 6-foot-9 lefty went 9 of 10 from the field, including hitting all five of his three-point attempts. He scored the Wolfpack's first 11 points of the game, featuring two three-pointers and a three-point play.
Costner didn't want to see he was "back" but his performance against East Carolina on Dec. 17 — 24 points and 17 rebounds — and against Marquette was the best he has played since his redshirt freshman season.
"There's nothing different, just the same old me," Costner said. "When you lose like we lost did tonight or Davidson, it really negates it. I'd rather not score at all if we are going to win."
Costner only had three shots in the second half, making all three.
"I take advantage of the opportunities when they present itself," Costner said. "They weren't open, and my teammates got it going, so I deferred. That's just playing basketball."
NC State almost had a miracle on an inbounds play 0.4 seconds remaining when McCauley hit a shot at the buzzer, but he clearly shot the ball after time expired.
The senior-dominated Golden Eagles knew how to win the close game, and came through at the end to improve to 10-2 overall. NC State fell to 7-2 and will host Loyola (Md.) on Dec. 29, where it will try and show it has learned some valuable lessons.
"One of the things coach said is that we have to learn how to win," McCauley said. "Unfortunately for [us], their guys knew how to win, and who to get the ball to, and who to take the shots."
Marquette shot a blistering 60.9 percent in the second half. Senior shooting guard Jerel McNeal scored a team-high 20 points, and Lazar Hayward added 16. The Golden Eagles forced 18 turnovers on the defensive end and had eight steals.
Marquette coach Buzz Williams felt confident that James would deliver at the end.
"Dominic has played at an ultra-high level for us all season, even before he hit so many big shots tonight," Williams said. "Playing the point guard and engaging the defense every possession, you have to play with a high level of intelligence, and Dominic does that for us."