North Carolina State coach Sidney Lowe didn't talk about the NCAA Tournament prior to the Wake Forest game Sunday, but the players were thinking about it.
Instead, Lowe concentrated on what the Wolfpack have to do to move up in the ACC standings. A loss to the Demon Deacons would have been devastating, and the players knew it.
NC State showed its determination by pulling out a hard-fought home win against Wake Forest and improved to 14-7 overall and 3-4 in the ACC. The Wolfpack are now in position to reach the .500 mark in conference action tonight against Virginia Tech at 7 p.m. at the RBC Center in Raleigh.
"We all want to make the NCAA Tournament, that's what we want to do," said redshirt sophomore Trevor Ferguson, who provided a spark off the bench against the Demon Deacons with a 3-pointer and a nice assist. "We can't look to March. We have to play right now. We have to look at each game as if it is the most important game of the year. That is what we were all saying [Sunday]. We couldn't go 2-5 in the conference."
The ground rules are simple for the Wolfpack. NC State needs to finish at 8-8 in the conference to have a shot at making the tournament. A 9-7 record would look more favorable if you add in at least one win in the ACC Tournament.
With the ACC having more parity than ever, there aren't any easy wins remaining on the schedule. The players understand that.
"Coach told us this was one of the most important games of the season," J.J. Hickson said. "It could have brought us to 3-4 or 2-5. It's hard to start the ACC playoffs with a record of 2-5. We are going to try and come here Tuesday and bring our record back to .500."
The win over Wake Forest was particularly impressive after a difficult second half against Duke in the preceding game. Duke rallied from a nine-point halftime deficit to roll in the second half, outscoring State 55-26 for the eventual 92-72 win.
"Coach really stressed that if want to be a top team, which we think we are, then we have to play defense," Ferguson said. "It isn't all about offense, it's about getting stops and leading to an easier offense. We grew from that Duke game that will show the rest of the year."
Virginia Tech preview
ACC — Virginia Tech (14-8, 5-3 ACC) at North Carolina State (14-7, 3-4 ACC)
Game time: Tuesday, Feb. 5, 7 p.m. — RBC Center, Raleigh, N.C.
PG — 13 Marques Johnson (6-5, Soph., 1.8 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.4 apg)
SG — 4 Courtney Fells (6-5, Jr., 10.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.0 apg)
SF — 11 Gavin Grant (6-8, Sr., 14.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.9 apg)
PF — 34 Ben McCauley (6-10, Jr., 6.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.5 apg)
C — 1 J.J. Hickson (6-9, Fr., 15.0 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.6 bpg)
PG — 5 Hank Thorns (5-9, Fr., 5.6 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 3.1 apg)
SG — 23 Malcom Delaney (6-2, Fr., 8.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 3.2 apg)
SF — 40 A.D. Vassallo (6-6, Jr., 15.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.6 apg)
PF — 13 Deron Washington (6-7, Sr., 12.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.6 apg)
C — 0 Jeff Allen (6-7, Fr., 12.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.0 spg, 1.0 bpg)
Scouting Virginia Tech
Location: Blacksburg, Va.
2006-2007 record: 22-12 overall, 10-6 ACC
2007 postseason: Lost to Southern Illinois in the second round of the NCAA Tournament
Coach: Seth Greenberg, 81-64 in five years at Virginia Tech, 294-234 in 18 years overall
The all-time series with NC State: NC State leads 33-10
Last meeting: NC State won 81-56 on Feb. 18, 2007, at the RBC Center in Raleigh
Virginia Tech: Freshman sixth man J.T. Thompson is one of two North Carolina natives for the Hokies. Dorenzo Hudson is the other. Thompson is from Monroe and Hudson is from Charlotte. The athletic 6-foot-6 Thompson has scored in double digits in three of the last four games, and had a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds against Boston College on Jan. 26 ... Vassallo, who considered NC State after a stint at Hargrave Military Academy, has scored in double digits in every game except for the loss against Richmond on Jan. 3, when he had eight points. He has scored 20 points or more in five games, and has hit four 3-pointers or more in five contests ... Washington, known for his incredible dunks, has four double-doubles this year and has scored in double digits for points in all but three games for the Hokies. His season season high is 19 against BC.
NC State: The Wolfpack Club has contributed $10,000 to the Hokie Club for the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, which directly contributes to those affected by the tragic shootings on the Virginia Tech campus April 16, 2007 ... The Wolfpack are 5-1 against the Hokies since they joined the ACC, and haven't lost to Tech at home since 1941 ... Grant is 11 of 20 from 3-point range in ACC action and is averaging 14.9 points per game in conference action.