- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 10, 2007

TAMPA, Fla. — Coach Sidney Lowe’s bright red blazer and N.C. State are sticking around the ACC tournament for another day at Virginia’s expense.

The 10th-seeded Wolfpack rallied from a halftime deficit for the second straight day, dealing the second-seeded Cavaliers a 79-71 defeat at St. Pete Times Forum and advancing to a semifinal meeting with the winner of last night’s late game between Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.

Sean Singletary scored 23 points for Virginia (20-10), which has not reached the ACC semifinals since 1995 and squandered a 14-point halftime deficit while allowing N.C. State (17-14) to shoot 73.9 percent (17-for-23) after the break.

“We got thoroughly outplayed in the second half,” Virginia coach Dave Leitao said. “They continued like [Thursday] to shoot the ball well, but the reason why they shot the ball well is we stopped defending and stopped doing the things we had done in the first half.”

The Cavaliers also developed no reliable scoring options besides Singletary. Senior J.R. Reynolds, who Leitao revealed has been battling a hip injury in recent weeks, scored 11 points on 3-for-15 shooting and is a meager 9-for-44 from the floor in the last three games.

Instead of playing for a shot at a league championship, the Cavaliers will await their seeding and matchup when the NCAA tournament’s 65-team is announced tomorrow. Virginia, which has dropped two straight, is expected to earn its first NCAA berth since 2001.

“The season’s not over,” Singletary said. “We’ve got a couple losses, but we still have the tournament to play. We’re going to try our best to make something of that.”

The Wolfpack, meanwhile, have emerged as the darlings of this upset-ravaged tournament. It has been a trying season for the short-handed group, which at times used a six-man rotation because of injuries and rarely has gone deeper than eight players.

But N.C. State received plenty of smart, well-timed plays, and got them from primary options like Brandon Costner (22 points) and Gavin Grant (20 points) and role players like Bryan Nieman while rallying from a 40-26 halftime deficit and a 50-39 hole later in the second half.

The Wolfpack quickly chipped away, tying it at 52-52 on a 3-pointer by Costner and adding a hook from Ben McCauley and a 3-pointer from Grant to take a 57-52 lead. After Lars Mikalauskas’ dunk coming out of a timeout, the Cavaliers went zone and surrendered a 3-pointer to Nieman as the Wolfpack finished off a 23-4 outburst.

“When you start to give up the lead, what you need is a response,” Leitao said. “We just took our medicine and never responded.”

Somehow, the Cavaliers eventually whittled the deficit to 67-66 and were still within two when Nieman drew a charge on Mamadi Diane with 1:55 left, a call that prompted Leitao to discard his jacket. Grant hit a layup and a 3-pointer on the next two possessions, extending the lead to 73-66.

“We came here to win the tournament,” said Grant, who scored nine straight points in the closing minutes. “We didn’t come here because we have to be in the tournament.”

Lowe has quietly done a fine job in his first season in Raleigh. His team opened the tournament with an overtime victory Thursday against Duke.

And while State fans might not savor last night’s victory as much as a defeat of a Triangle rival, it was impressive nonetheless.

Lowe, decked out in the red jacket he debuted during a Feb. 3 upset of North Carolina and brought out again for Thursday’s tournament opener, has suddenly become fodder for fashion discussion every time he unveils the blazer he received as a gift from a Raleigh tailor.

The former State star, who knows something about tournament runs from his experience with the 1983 national champions, assured reporters he had plenty in his wardrobe for the rest of the weekend.

But what about his new calling card?

“As far as the blazer, I’m going to have to try it again,” Lowe said with a grin. “I hate to kill you people with it, but I’m going to have to try it again.”

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