The Wolfpack got it in the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament at Greensboro, N.C., and made the most of the opportunity, defeating No. 9 Wake Forest, 87-83, Saturday to advance to the final for the second consecutive season against Duke. The No. 12 Blue Devils defeated North Carolina, 75-63.
Twenty years ago, North Carolina State used a victory in the ACC final as a springboard to an unlikely NCAA championship under the late Jim Valvano.
Saturday's semifinal victory, meanwhile, came seven days after the Wolfpack blew an 11-point second-half lead in the regular-season finale and allowed Wake Forest star Josh Howard to shoot six free throws in the final 1.7 seconds to win the game.
"Last week's loss really struck us hard," said Julius Hodge, who had a career-high 31 points Saturday. "It was like a rib shot to us and it really hurt."
The loss will probably prevent Wake Forest (24-5) from getting a No. 1 seeding in the NCAA tournament. Coming off their first outright ACC regular-season title in 41 years, the Demon Deacons were trying to win their first conference tournament championship since a Tim Duncan-led team did it in 1995 and 1996.
North Carolina State (18-11) made its first four shots of the second half, including three from three-point range, to take the lead for good at 44-39.
Duke, meanwhile, used 61% shooting in the first half to take control against North Carolina (17-15).
The Blue Devils (23-6) will be going for a fifth consecutive ACC tournament championship today. They defeated North Carolina State, 91-61, in last year's final.