- Associated Press - Friday, March 15, 2013

GREENSBORO, N.C. — North Carolina State coach Mark Gottfried is watching his up-and-down team find its groove at the right time.

Scott Wood had 23 points and seven 3-pointers to help N.C. State beat Virginia 75-56 on Friday in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament quarterfinals.

C.J. Leslie added 17 points and 11 rebounds with three blocks for the fifth-seeded Wolfpack (24-9), who led by double digits nearly the entire second half for a second straight quarterfinal win against the fourth-seeded Cavaliers (21-11).

Gottfried said he didn’t know exactly why his team had seemed to take a step forward now. He also seems content to just go with it.

“I think every coach, if you knew how to get your team playing real well at the end, we would just all do it automatically,” he said. “It just sometimes happens that way.”

The Wolfpack entered the year as the ACC favorite for the first time since the 1974-75 season and carrying a No. 6 national ranking, the program’s highest in 29 years. N.C. State didn’t quite live up to all that, but it has enough offensive threats to scare anyone and is now playing better defense.

After having Lorenzo Brown shut down league player of the year Erick Green in Thursday’s first-round win against Virginia Tech, N.C. State held the Cavaliers to 39 percent shooting and a 5-for-20 showing from behind the arc.

“I think the main thing for us is on the defensive end,” Wood said. “We know we’ve got a bunch of people that can score the ball, so anytime we’re in a stance and guarding our (man) the way we know we’re capable of, it makes us dangerous.”

Now N.C. State is back in the semifinals and has a Saturday matchup with No. 9 Miami, the tournament’s top seed.

N.C. State also got strong performances from freshman T.J. Warren with 18 points and senior Richard Howell, who battled through a right thigh injury to finish with 12 rebounds.

It was all too much for Virginia, which hasn’t reached the semifinals since 1995 — the longest drought in the league. Now the Cavaliers will have two long days to wait before learning whether they’ve done enough for an NCAA tournament bid.

“What will be, will be,” Cavs coach Tony Bennett said. “We have some quality wins, we have some bad losses and who knows what will happen. … This would have helped, and I thought we had the right mindset going in. We prepared hard and knew the keys but if you’re off against an offensive team like this, you won’t have much of a chance and we have a fine line.”

Virginia won the January meeting 58-55, though the Wolfpack played much of the way without Brown due to an ankle injury. The point guard missed the next two games and N.C. State lost both, one coming on a last-second tip-in against the Hurricanes.

Now N.C. State will get another shot at Miami to surpass last season’s win total, which was the program’s best since winning 24 during the 1987-88 season.

The Wolfpack led 30-21 halftime, then scored on five straight possessions out of the break to push that margin to 19.

Wood provided the highlight with three straight 3s, the last coming when he lost Paul Jesperson on an inbounds play to send the Greensboro Coliseum’s home-state crowd into a roar.

Leslie followed that with a three-point play by driving past Evan Nolte for a score, a sequence that gave the Wolfpack a 44-25 lead with 16:31 left. The Cavaliers got no closer than 11 again.

Wood set the program’s career mark for 3-pointers during his second-half flurry and also led the effort that frustrated all-ACC first-team performer Joe Harris, who had 13 points on 4-for-13 shooting — including 2-for-9 on 3s.

“I thought they did a good job of overplaying,” Harris said. “They made shots tough and contested and had a hand in the face.”

Akil Mitchell scored 19 to lead the Cavaliers, who shot just 9-for-28 (32.1 percent) before halftime and then couldn’t stop the Wolfpack even after they warmed up.

N.C. State also took a 39-28 rebounding advantage behind Howell, who began wincing and constantly rubbing his thigh late in the first half. He briefly left the game to ride a stationary bike and had his thigh wrapped.

The first-team all-ACC pick said he twice took a knee to the thigh.

“I haven’t been in this much pain in a long time,” Howell said before saying he would “definitely” be ready to play Saturday.

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