A most improbable win may have saved North Carolina State's season.
Senior small forward Gavin Grant made a nice play on the ball and stepped in to make the steal and layup on an inbounds play with 2.1 seconds left gave the Pack a stunning 79-77 victory in overtime in front of 12,400 shocked and delirious fans at the RBC Center.
"I thought for a minute that I had an orange jersey on," Grant said. "I don't know what he saw, but I'm glad he saw it. I was just going to score it. I just put the ball in the hole. He just threw the ball right to me.
"I was just trying to get to Jack McClinton because he was just killing us in the second half. We needed to stop him before he made a haymaker."
Sidney Lowe did not want to call the Miami contest a must-win game. However from the beginning, the NC State players played with much more urgency in what could fairly be called at least a crucial game for the Wolfpack.
"It feels real good and I got my first ACC win as a freshman," NC State freshman center J.J. Hickson said. "We just got tired of losing. We just had to step it up individually and as a team. We needed to find a recipe and I think we found it."
The Pack's hope of avoiding what could have been a disastrous 0-3 start in the ACC looked dim when Miami led 76-72 in overtime with 26 seconds left. Junior guard Courtney Fells made a long 3-pointer with 17.7 seconds remaining. Miami sixth-year senior center Anthony King was then fouled with 15.3 seconds on the clock.
King stepped to the line, and his first free throw rimmed out. It began what may be the most forgettable 15 seconds in King's six-year career. King, a Durham native, would make the second free throw, giving the Canes a 77-75 advantage. Grant then missed a tough shot in the lane for NC State, but Hickson won the battle for the rebound and tapped it in to tie the contest with 3.9 seconds left.
"Coach drew something up for me to come off a screen," Grant said. "I was able to get in the lane, but I thought I was going to get fouled and get two [free throws], but J.J. stepped up and put one in. Courtney really set us up with the big three that he made with 17 seconds left."
King, with Miami out of timeouts, then tried to throw a quick inbounds pass, but Grant alertly stepped in front to steal the pass and soared over King to make a layup. Sophomore guard James Dews desperate heave from near halfcourt hit off the top of the backboard and set off a wild team celebration.
"This was a game we needed to play well and get this win," Lowe said. "We came out with great energy and focus. Today's game was about heart and toughness. We knew they played physical and I told our guys that the most physical team wins the game and we needed to be active.
"We were able to throw the last punch and that was great."
NC State improved to 12-5 overall and 1-2 in the conference, while Miami fell to 14-3 and 1-2 in the ACC.
"I knew we started 0-3 [in the ACC] last year, and it's hard to dig back from that," Grant said. "We aren't the same team as last year. We are definitely a better team on paper. I think once we keep playing hard, it will come around and we can be the team that everyone thinks we can be."
NC State dominated the action in the first half and held a 36-27 lead at the break. The lead could have been more had it not been for a 7 for 13 effort from the free-throw line in the first 20 minutes.
Miami pounded away inside to start the second half to chip into the lead, and then senior guard Jack McClinton caught fire from outside. McClinton scored only two points in the first half, but scored 24 in the second half and overtime to finish with 26. The second of his back-to-back threes with 11:32 left gave Miami a 51-50 lead, its first advantage since they led 5-4 in the opening moments of the game.
After Grant hit a 3-pointer to give State a 64-63 lead, McClinton personally kept Miami in the contest. He hit a jumper to put Miami back on top, and then he answered a left-handed hook from State junior center Ben McCauley in the lane with a 3-pointer.
State went back on top with 2:26 left when McCauley made the first of two free throws and Fells grabbed and put back in an offensive rebound on the missed second attempt. Once again, McClinton had the answer, nailing another three to put Miami into the lead at 71-69 with 2:06 left.
A free throw by sophomore center Jimmy Graham gave Miami a 72-69 advantage with 1:25 left in regulation. Hickson's shot for NC State was blocked by King, and Miami had a chance to make it a two-possession game, but senior forward Raymond Hicks missed a jumper.
Freshman point guard Javier Gonzalez found a streaking Grant up the court, and Grant beat Hicks to the basket for a layup and drew a foul. Grant's subsequent free throw tied the game with 32 seconds left. McClinton and Fells traded missed jumpers to end regulation and force overtime.
A jumper by King gave Miami a 74-72 lead with 3:05 left in the overtime session, and that stood until McClinton made two free throws to give the Canes' their four-point lead. Grant made a huge defensive play during that span, blocking what looked to be a sure layup by King.
Grant led NC State with 22 points and was a perfect 9 for 9 from the line. Sophomore forward Brandon Costner scored 16 and was 4-of-4 shooting from beyond the arc but only played 27 minutes as Lowe went with Hickson and McCauley in the post for the final moments of regulation and overtime.
Helping NC State's cause was a season-best 11 of 18 effort from three-point range. Fells went 3 for 6 en route to 14 points, and Gonzalez was 2 of 4.
"If we take good shots, normally we shoot a pretty good percentage, and that includes the 3s," Lowe said. "If we are wide open, we should shoot it."
McClinton had a game-high 26 points. Hicks and King both added 13 while Graham contributed 11 off the bench.
NC State is back at the RBC Center on Wednesday night to host Georgia Tech. Miami also plays again Wednesday, hosting North Carolina.
"We were ready and we knew it in the locker room," Lowe said. "We could sense that we were ready to go. It was obvious the guys liked being at home and in front of our crowd."