By Shannon Ryan, Chicago Tribune –
COLUMBUS, Ohio — North Carolina State guard Alex Johnson ran toward the section of Wolfpack fans, popped out his jersey with his thumbs and yelled, “We’re back.”
The Wolfpack certainly are after the No. 11 seed defeated No. 3 seed Georgetown 66-63 Sunday in the NCAA tournament’s round of 32.
They had not played in the NCAA tournament since 2006 and will make their first Sweet 16 appearance since 2005, facing the winner of the late Kansas- Purdue game.
Despite Mark Gottfried entering his first season as the North Carolina State coach, players were intent on not allowing 2011-12 to become a season of settling.
“One of the first things I said when I met Coach Gottfried was I don’t want this to be a rebuilding year,” forward Scott Wood said. “I think we have the talent and the pieces for this to be a dominant team.”
They didn’t dominate in the regular season, losing 12 games, but they are taking over the tournament with upsets of two higher seeds.
The Hoyas, meanwhile, lost to a double-digit seed for the third straight tournament, following up with losses to No. 13 Ohio in 2010 and No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth last season.
Georgetown blew a 25-15 first-half lead and its offense stymied when center Henry Sims picked up two early fouls and eventually fouled out.
“I wasn’t too concerned,” Sims said, noting his confidence in teammates.
The Hoyas cut into an 11-point North Carolina State lead to trail 62-61 with 37 seconds remaining. Wood made only one of two free throws to open the door for the Hoyas, but their plan to get the ball inside to Sims did not work and Otto Porter took a poor shot.
Lorenzo Brown made three of four free throws down the stretch for the Wolfpack to open a three-point cushion with 4.6 seconds to play. A game-tying shot by Georgetown’s Jason Clark missed and the Wolfpack began celebrating, years of frustration lifted from their shoulders.
“What stands out is how they’ve gotten better,” Gottfried said of his players.