RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Wes Moore’s fourth-ranked Wolfpack trailed No. 3 Louisville 34-21 at the half — its largest halftime deficit of the season. In the locker room, the veteran coach had a message for his team.
“You can either keep doing what you’re doing and be totally embarrassed,” Moore said. “Or you can do something really special. And they chose to do something special, thank goodness.”
That message didn’t seem to sink in until the fourth quarter, though. North Carolina State trailed 51-37 heading into the final stanza, and that’s when the home team staged an epic turnaround. The Pack seized momentum with a 17-0 run in the middle of the quarter to take a 58-53 lead on their way to a stunning 68-59 win in the battle of ACC heavyweights.
“We knew as a team when our shots aren’t falling we’ve got to win off of defense,” explained Diamond Johnson, who led the Wolfpack with 16 points. “Once the defense picked up, it gave us energy for our shots to fall. We never lost confidence and we never stopped shooting.”
Johnson keyed the comeback with 14 fourth-quarter points. The sophomore transfer hit several tough shots that seemed to give the Wolfpack much-needed energy.
“We started hitting shots and their’s started rolling out a bit,” Moore said. “We got a couple of turnovers off the press that really I thought got the crowd into it.
“And Diamond hit some unbelievable shots where the coach is over there going, ‘no, no, no, nice job.’ It was a great win for our program.”
It took a sizzling fourth quarter to make it happen. The Wolfpack (17-2, 8-0 ACC) shot 79 percent and knocked down 5-of-6 3-pointers over the final 10 minutes of the game in earning its second win over a top-three opponent and its fifth over a ranked foe this season.
On Thursday, Moore said high-profile games like this can be like getting a root canal for coaches. Maybe now we know what he was talking about.
“Those first three quarters, yeah, I’d rather go get a root canal,” Moore joked. “But the fourth quarter, obviously when the momentum changed, the crowd was into it, it got exciting. But for a coach, especially my age, I don’t know how healthy that is.”
For Moore’s sake, hopefully Sunday’s 4 p.m. matchup with Virginia Tech will less stressful.