GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Devon Daniels and his North Carolina State teammates know their chances of securing an NCAA Tournament bid could come down to how they play in this week's Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.
“We know we can't go where we want to go, like unless we take care of the game at hand,” Daniels said.
The Wolfpack did that Wednesday, with Daniels scoring 23 points to help N.C. State beat Pittsburgh 73-58 in Wednesday’s second round of the ACC Tournament.
C.J. Bryce added 13 points and 10 rebounds for the fifth-seeded Wolfpack (20-12), who finally broke free of the Panthers with a run of five straight scoring possessions starting near the 9-minute mark. N.C. State went on to lead by 20 late in the kind of game that could have damaged its NCAA resume.
N.C. State won a game in last year's ACC Tournament only to fall on the wrong side of the bubble by Selection Sunday with a resume lacking a marquee win along with the country's worst nonconference strength of schedule. That disappointment explains why C.J. Bryce and Braxton Beverly both said the NCAA talk is in the back of the players' minds in Greensboro.
“It's kind of impossible not to see and maybe not mention,” Beverly said. “But our main goal right now is the ACC Tournament. We'll let that take care of itself as long as we take care of business here.”
N.C. State shot 48% to earn its 10th straight win in the series against the Panthers (16-17).
Xavier Johnson scored 15 points to lead Pitt, though he was whistled for a flagrant foul early in the second half — his fourth foul of the game — for hitting Daniels in the face with a forearm on a drive to the basket. Johnson, who also had eight rebounds at the point, headed to the bench at the 15:24 mark with Pitt down just 44-40 at the time.
By the time he returned at the 7:52 mark, Pitt was down 12.
Pitt coach Jeff Capel said Johnson's departure “threw off the rhythm of what we were doing offensively and defensively.”
“I think if you take anyone's starting point guard off their team, there's going to be a drop,” Capel said. “I thought Xavier was doing some good stuff for us. He was getting in the paint. He was creating offense for us. And when he goes out, our offense changes.”
Pittsburgh: The 13th-seeded Panthers advanced by beating No. 12 seed Wake Forest on Tuesday, ending a seven-game losing streak. One of those came Feb. 29 in Raleigh, where Pitt led for more than 30 minutes. This time, Pitt never led to end its season.
“I'm proud how we came here and fought,” Capel said. “It could have been easy for us just to maybe want to get the season over with, with losing seven games in a row. ... I thought we took a step forward as a program. You know, it stinks that it's over. It hurts.”
N.C. State: This game wasn’t about helping the Wolfpack’s NCAA Tournament resume so much as avoiding damage to it. N.C. State entered sitting at No. 54 in the NCAA’s NET rankings with four wins in Quadrant 1 games to sit atop its resume. A strong second-half performance Wednesday ensured Kevin Keatts’ club would get at least another chance to help its resume.
“We can't control the future,” Bryce said, adding: “Obviously it's at the back of our heads.”
Pittsburgh freshman Justin Champagnie had just nine points on 4-for-13 shooting after going for a season-high 31 points against the Demon Deacons a day earlier.
Daniels finished a basket shy of matching his career high, while his two floaters in the lane during the clinching spurt helped N.C. State turn a six-point lead to 65-51 with 6:36 left. ... Markell Johnson had 11 assists for the Wolfpack. ... Trey McGowens added 12 points for Pitt, which shot 29% after halftime and 35% for the game. ... Johnson had eight turnovers for Pitt.
N.C. State: The Wolfpack advanced to Thursday's quarterfinals to face 10th-ranked Duke, the tournament's No. 4 seed, after the teams split their regular-season series.
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