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January 3, 2010

Shocker in Raleigh

NC State junior point guard Javier Gonzalez said it must be a message from God. He couldn't explain what happened to his team in a better way.

NC State surged ahead in overtime Sunday, and the final 38 seconds became a free-throw shooting contest for the Wolfpack. Fifth-year senior guard Farnold Degand missed a free throw with 2.6 seconds left, and it bounced right to Florida junior forward Chandler Parsons to retrieve it. Parsons, who hadn't made a field goal the entire game, tossed in a 75-footer at the buzzer to pull off the 62-61 win in front of 17,207 fans at the RBC Center. NC State fell to 10-4 overall, while Florida improved to 11-3.

"We did what we were supposed to do to win," Gonzalez said. "They just maid an unbelievable shot from the other side of the court. That is probably the first one and last one that he'll make [like that] in his career. He made it in the right moment.

"I don't know if you credit him or God. I'll give the credit to God. He could take a 100 [shots], and he wouldn't make one, God is sending us a message that you have to play until the last buzzer."

NC State isn't a stranger to last-second heroics. Florida's Nick Calathes and Marquette's Dominic James hit big shots in the waning seconds last year, and Arizona's Nic Wise won on a drive at the buzzer this season Dec. 23.

"Here we go again, they made it again," Gonzalez said. "The next time, I promise, I'm going to get up on somebody, to stop the ball, to do something. He took a wide open shot, but it was from the other side."

The Wolfpack are almost snake-bitten in late-game situations.

"Teams always happen to have luck with their last-second shots on us," NCSU junior center Tracy Smith said. "Whether it is from halfcourt, free-throw line, teams just always find to put the ball in the net."

Parsons' shot felt like a bad dream for the NC State players. The Wolfpack battled the Gators tooth and nail until the final buzzer. Gonzalez helped rally the Wolfpack with a big offensive rebound off a Dennis Horner miss to tie the game 48-48 with 25.5 seconds left in regulation. UF sophomore point guard Erving Walker couldn't make his jumper on the ensuing possession, and the two defensive-orientated teams headed to overtime.

Right off the tip, Gonzalez opened the extra period with a three-pointer, and then later added a drive to the basket to give the Wolfpack a 53-48 lead.

"I'm not afraid to take the shot at the end of the game," Gonzalez said. "That's what I like. If I could play like I do the last three minutes every game, I would do it. You have to play like that the whole game.

"We had them. We had the momentum. Everybody was pumped up and excited again. I thought after that, we would win the game."

NC State got a lucky break to keep its five-point cushion, when a Degand pass glanced off the hands of Horner right to Smith for a resounding dunk and a 55-50 lead.

Smith went 1 of 2 from the line with 1:16 left in the game, to build the Pack's lead to 56-50. The missed free throw was the start of a string of big misses leading up to Degand's final miss. Gonzalez went 2 for 3 from the line, Degand missed the front end of a one-and-one with 38 seconds left, and Horner split a pair with 11.2 seconds remaining. NC State collectively went 10 of 19 from the line.

"We didn't knock down some free throws when we needed to," said NCSU freshman Scott Wood, who went 4 of 8 from three-point land. "That will probably come back to haunt us, and it obviously did."

Smith said he's ready to shoot more free throws in practice. He said the team has been looking forward to playing Florida since the schedule came out.

"W e played real good in the second half and overtime, but they just hit a real big shot," Smith said. "This was the most intense game we've played this year. I feel like we deserved to win it, but I feel we deserve to win every game."

Florida struggled from the field, and especially from the three-point line, going 3 of 24 for the game. Parsons' three-pointer was coupled with freshman guard Kenny Boynton's draining one from behind the arc with 13.2 seconds left to cut it to 57-55. NC State's perimeter defense on Boynton, Walker and Dan Werner, was outstanding. The trio went 10 for 36 from the field, and 2 for 18 on three-pointers.

"I thought we did good, getting over the screens and getting back in front of them, and making them take tough shots."

NC State came out aggressively to start the game to build an early lead, but points were hard to come by for both teams. Smith carried the offense in the first half with 14 of his game-high 21 points, to go along with his nine rebounds. The Wolfpack built a 20-13 lead with 11:53 left on a Degand jumper, but a scoring lull commenced. Freshman center Jordan Vandenberg's layup was the only field goal during a stretch that covered a few seconds less than six minutes.

Florida wasn't doing much better. The Gators cut the NC State lead to 23-17 with 9:14 left in the first half, and then four points over the next 7:59, when Werner's basket with 1:15 cut the Wolfpack's lead to 29-23.

Wood's three-point stroke and the late-game heroics of Gonzalez helped carry the offense in the second half. Gonzalez scored 10 of his 13 points, and Wood had nine of his 12 after halftime.

"We had guys that were just standing, standing around for some reason," said NCSU coach Sidney Lowe about the struggles on offense at times. "I had to change what we were doing to make it easier for them. Against that zone, those guys are just so active and so long.

"They [losses] all hurt, but this one really hurts. I didn't really say a lot to them. I just told them to bring it in, and we'll talk about it the next day. They executed everything well, but we just missed our free throws, and they made theirs."

Flroida junior center Vernon Macklin led the Gators with 14 points and five boards, Walker added 13 points, six assists and four steals, and junior forward Alex Tyus chipped in with 11 points and seven rebounds.

"I stand here very humbled by the events that transpired there at the end of the game," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "I thought NC State's players executed very well coming down the stretch. It's amazing because in coaching, you put your heart and soul in it, and sometimes you think you have a lot more control, and a lot more impact than you actually do. We were very fortunate to win."

NC State returns to action Wednesday with a home game against Holy Cross.

"This was best since I've been here," said Wood about the intensity. "I always said that I thought high school was more intense because of smaller gyms. I think that was the most intense gym that I've been in a long time."


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