PITTSBURGH — As good as Villanova has been all year, it only took one off day to stop the Wildcats in their tracks.
Just two days after Villanova’s best shooting performance of the season, the Wildcats had one of their worst. North Carolina State took advantage, becoming the first team to knock off a top seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament with a 71-68 victory on Saturday.
The eight-seeded Wolfpack (22-13) advance to the Sweet 16 for the second time in four years under coach Mark Gottfried after losing in the second round the last two seasons.
Meanwhile, Villanova was left looking for its first trip to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament since 2009. This is one that’s going to sting for a while.
The Wildcats (33-3) had a 16-game winning streak heading into the tournament and were picked by many, including President Obama, to make it to the championship.
But a young N.C. State frontcourt that worried Villanova coach Jay Wright leading up to the game proved to be his worst nightmare. Freshman forward Abdul-Malik Abu (13 points, 12 rebounds) and sophomore Lennard Freeman (11 points, 12 rebounds) each finished with double-doubles as N.C. State crushed Villanova 45-32 on the glass.
Junior guard Trevor Lacey paced the Wolfpack with 17 points.
After trailing by as many as a dozen points in the second half, Villanova cut it to two with 41.1 seconds remaining after senior guard Darrun Hilliard hit two deep 3-pointers in a 40-second span.
The Wolfpack then turned it over, but junior guard Dylan Ennis was unable to connect on an open 3-pointer with 15 seconds left and four foul shots by N.C. State sealed the win.
Hilliard made a final triple with 1.8 seconds left for the last of his game-high 27 points. It was too little too late to save what was arguably the best regular season in Villanova history.
Villanova couldn’t find its shot from the outset.
The Wildcats started 2 of 13 from the field, missing several layups in a sign of what was to come. They finished 19 of 61 (31.1 percent), just a fraction of a percent above their worst performance of the season, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Despite having starting point guard Anthony ‘Cat’ Barber on the bench for the last 7:44 of the first half, N.C. State was able to get some momentum heading into the break. The Wolfpack scored the last seven points of the first half to take a 32-28 advantage after a back-and-forth opening 20 minutes that saw eight ties and six lead changes.
NOTES: Villanova and N.C. State had previously met just once in the last 42 years, a 69-68 Wolfpack win in the 2007 Old Spice Classic championship game. N.C. State holds a 12-10 advantage in the series, which dates to 1930. … N.C. State advanced out of the second round, 66-65 over LSU, on a last-second hook shot by F BeeJay Anya. Villanova beat Lafayette 93-52 in a game the Wildcats led wire to wire. … Both programs have national championships in their past. N.C. State won in both 1974 and 1983, and Villanova won it all in 1985.