RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) North Carolina State's players waited so long to hear their name called on Selection Sunday that senior C.J. Williams started praying. First-year coach Mark Gottfried and athletic director Debbie Yow started considering what to say if the Wolfpack didn't get an NCAA bid.It came down to the final pairing before they learned N.C. State was back in the NCAA tournament for the first time in six years.
The Wolfpack (22-12) earned the No. 11 seed in the Midwest Region and will face sixth-seeded San Diego State on Friday in Columbus, Ohio. None of the current players have been to the tournament before, making Sunday's news awfully special no matter how long the players had to wait for it.
"I really can't even put into words right now how I'm feeling," an emotional Williams said after the team and athletic staff held a private viewing party on the school's Centennial Campus.
N.C. State knew it was on the bubble coming into the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, then beat Boston College and Virginia to improve its chances. The Wolfpack lost a tough game to top-seeded North Carolina in Saturday's semifinals, denying the program of a marquee win that would've likely removed any doubt about its NCAA chances.
It turned out Gottfried's bunch had done enough.
"I had a good feeling, but when it got down to one spot left, it's all or nothing at this point," Gottfried said. "I was happy to see our players respond like they did it was pandemonium in there and it should be. These guys have worked really hard and they've come such a long way."
The Wolfpack made five straight NCAA tournaments from 2002-06 before Herb Sendek left for Arizona State. Former Wolfpack point guard Sidney Lowe took over, but he went just 86-78 overall, never finished higher than ninth in the ACC and never led the school to the NCAAs.
Yow hired Gottfried, who cautioned that the program was a long way from being where he wanted. He said Sunday he knew it would be "a tall order" to get back to the NCAA tournament in his first season, though the group played with confidence and steadily improved behind sophomore C.J. Leslie. N.C. State helped its chances with a tough nonconference schedule, beating Texas but losing to Syracuse, Vanderbilt and Indiana.
All the players could do Sunday was try to stay positive through what Gottfried called a "gut-wrencher" of an afternoon.
"It was pretty special," Yow said. "I don't think I'll ever forget this one."