Wolfpack has earned right to howl
WORCESTER, Mass. -- Julius Hodge could have stood up and screamed at the media and the NC State faithful and told everyone off.
He would have had the right.
Connecticut's season was too bizarre for a repeat title. It just was.
As such, Sunday's 65-62 loss to NC State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament shouldn't be a total shock.
The euphoria of the national championship was gone soon after when assistant coach Clyde Vaughan was arrested for solicitation and then later dismissed.
There were life threatening illnesses to two players (A.J. Price and Rashad Anderson). Price never played. Anderson didn't for a stretch, and then wasn't the same when he returned.
Backup point guard Antonio Kellogg was suspended last week for his poor attitude and might be gone, leaving the Huskies so vulnerable at the point that Sami Amezianem, with a nameless jersey, played for a minute behind Marcus Williams on Sunday.
After the game, UConn coach Jim Calhoun acknowledged the difficulties of the season and remarked about how the team had run out of gas. He said he couldn't remember the last time that happened.
The Huskies never quite hit a stretch this season where they had the look of a champion. But if Rudy Gay, Charlie Villanueva and Josh Boone all return next season, the Huskies should be right back in the mix.
Everything needs to go right to repeat. It never did this season for UConn.
-- Andy Katz
This program gets no love. Nada. NC State plays in the shadows of North Carolina and Duke -- every game, every day and just about everywhere in the country.
Yet, here was NC State, in the Sweet 16 after beating Connecticut 65-62 at the DCU Center.
The 10th-seeded Wolfpack beat back No. 7 seed Charlotte on Friday and then dispatched No. 2 seed UConn to move on to Syracuse.
How do you like that?
Do you think this was hard to accomplish?
This was a mountain to climb for the Wolfpack. They were close in the second round in 2002, but couldn't close out UConn and lost by three. Cal bounced them out in the first round in 2003 in overtime. A year ago, the Wolfpack blew a double-digit lead to Vanderbilt in the second round.
Do you think the Wolfpack earned this one?
"It's so difficult to get to the Sweet 16," said Hodge, a senior who was the ACC player of the year as a junior. "No one believed we could get it done. This feels so great and it shows that hard work pays off."
Hodge sat at the postgame podium, being asked about his game-winning basket and NC State's Sweet 16 appearance, and one of the first things he mentioned was an offensive rebound by teammate Cameron Bennerman.
"Big-time players make big-time plays. I was very fortunate because his offensive rebound was huge with a minute left. That was huge ... huge," Hodge said, referring to Bennerman's board that set ultimately set up Andrew Brackman's 3-pointer that give NC State a 62-58 lead with a minute left.
"Guys say Julius is 6-7, 205 but did you see Rudy Gay and Ed Nelson go to the floor? Say what you want, but those are two really good players," Hodge said. "There's no way I was going to be denied. That's the way NC State has played the last month or so. We haven't been denied and we haven't given up."
The Wolfpack and much maligned coach Herb Sendek have had to earn every bit of praise. NC State has had a slew of injuries and illnesses this season that helped contribute to its 7-9 ACC finish. They were a bubble team a month ago, and probably didn't feel totally secure until they beat a Chris Paul-less Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament.
"This is a great feeling," Hodge said. "It's even better because the 13 guys here and the coaching staff were the only people who believed in us."
"The way the guys played today showed so much character and determination. The pride, the respect, the love for our school and all the traits coach Sendek possesses. We just tried to get it done for him. This was such a big, big win."
There was a time during the postgame news conference where Hodge just stopped and couldn't believe that this had occurred. He was talking about his family influence and then just said, "no one could believe this could have happened. No one believed."
They do now.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
MORE MEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL HEADLINES
- Georgetown's Whittington has torn left ACL
- Ex-Alabama guard Lacey chooses NC State
- Drake F King transfers home to Minnesota
- Hornsby, son of musician, transfers to LSU