Given a second chance, T.J. Warren put on a show in the NCAA tournament.
The hard-to-guard sophomore forward scored 16 of his 25 points in the second half on Tuesday night, showing why he was the ACC's player of the year, and North Carolina State led most of the way in a 74-59 victory over Xavier in the NCAA tournament's First Four.
N.C. State (22-12) didn't have much time to celebrate. The 12th-seeded Wolfpack headed to Orlando, Fla., for a game on Thursday against St. Louis in the Midwest Regional.
Warren had the most to do with it. He made up for a freshman tournament flop on the same floor a year earlier and prevented Xavier (21-14) from getting any traction in the second half.
"He's just a great player," coach Mark Gottfried said. "It's hard to keep him down for a whole 40 minutes."
Centre Matt Stainbrook led Xavier with 19 points and nine rebounds despite an injured left knee. Leading scorer Semaj Christon was limited to 14 points, and Xavier made only 2 of 14 shots from beyond the arc.
Xavier was playing in a familiar arena less than an hour from campus. Familiar, but not entirely friendly. Fans of the Dayton Flyers — a long-time rival — booed loudly as they took the court, making for a mixed welcome with a lot of Musketeer fans in the stands as well.
Warren made it all a moot point, helping N.C. State take all the drama out of the game over the final 11 minutes. Ralston Turner added 17 points.
The Wolfpack went six years between NCAA appearances before Gottfried got them there three years in a row. This was his youngest and least-experienced team: Only two players with tournament experience. They got one of the final at-large bids with a strong closing run, winning five of their last six games, including an upset of Syracuse in the ACC tournament.
Warren was the key. And he really wanted a second chance at the NCAA tournament.
Albany earns 1st NCAA tournament win
D.J. Evans scored 22 points, including two clinching free throws with 12.6 seconds left, to lead Albany to its first NCAA tournament victory, 71-64 over Mount St. Mary's in the First Four.
The Great Danes (19-14) advance to meet overall No. 1 seed and top-ranked Florida on Thursday in Orlando.
It was a wild game of incredible turnarounds, with the Great Danes bolting to leads of 13-0 and 21-2, only to have The Mount (16-17) bounce back with a 21-2 run of its own to pull even.
Peter Hooley had 20 points and Gary Johnson 13 for Albany, winless in its three previous NCAA trips.
Hooley, one of three Australians on the Albany roster, hit two free throws with 2:43 remaining to stretch the lead to 65-62. After Julian Norfleet countered with a bucket, Hooley again pounded his way to the basket and lofted a shot over a defender for a 67-64 lead at the 2-minute mark.
It stayed that way with the teams missing big shots. Rashad Whack and Norfleet each missed potential tying 3s before Evans was fouled with 12.6 seconds left and hit both shots to increase the lead to five points.
Norfleet then missed another 3 and Albany finally could call itself an NCAA winner.
Will Miller led The Mount with 21, all on 3s. He didn't get a shot off in the last 3:32.
Whack added 16 points and Sam Prescott 14 for The Mount, which electrified the crowd at the University of Dayton with 3-point fireworks. The Mountaineers hit 12 of 37 shots behind the arc to time and again come back from deficits.
The glut of 3-pointers was nothing new for the Mountaineers. They came in with an offence heavily dependent on shots behind the arc. They averaged 9 of 25 on 3-pointers coming in.
Albany had made some racket in the NCAAs before, but had never come out on top. In 2006, the Great Danes led by double figures in the second half but lost to Connecticut, 72-59. A year later, they held their own before falling Virginia, 84-57. A year ago, as a 15 seed, they battled Duke throughout before coming up short, 73-61.
Albany led 35-31 at the break, but that didn't tell the story of one bizarre half.
The Mount couldn't do much right for the first 8-plus minutes. The Great Danes raced to a 13-0 lead. The Mountaineers missed misfired on their first 11 shots from the field, including six behind the arc.
Even after Whack finally got them on the board with a driving layup at the 13:17 mark, the Great Danes kept pouring it on. When Hooley cut through the lane for a layup at the 11:33 mark, Albany led 21-2 and the Mount St. Mary's white-clad cheering section was silent.
Just that quickly, things turned around.
A team fueled by 3s finally went on a surge after Miller hit the first of his three first-half 3s. That touched off an 18-0 run, with Miller leading the way with three long bombs and Norfleet adding one.
After trading such huge swings of momentum, now the teams traded baskets.
From a tie at 31, the Great Danes closed the half with Hooley scoring off a long pass from Evans after a steal. Then in the final seconds, Evans hit a baseline jumper for the four-point lead.
Mount St. Mary's was also making its fourth NCAA appearance, although it had won once before — a victory over Coppin State in 2008 in the old format of an opening-round leading into the big tournament.