PITTSBURGH — Raise your hand if you saw North Carolina State 71, Villanova 68 coming.
Perhaps you did. A No. 1 seed lost in the Round of 32 each of the last two seasons, after all — Wichita State to Kentucky in 2014, and Gonzaga to Wichita State in ’13.
So now we’re at three years in a row, but come on — this was different. This was wholly unexpected. This was the last Atlantic Coast Conference team in the NCAA Tournament, a tied-for-sixth-place squad that, just over a week ago, was being blasted by 24 points by Duke in the league tourney.
This is not a vintage Wolfpack team, if there even is such a thing. It appeared to be one of the best Wildcats teams of all time, and maybe it was. None of that really matters now.
N.C. State (22-13) was in this one from the jump and never let up, never backed down. Villanova (33-3) got as close as one point down in the late stages but couldn’t tie or grab a lead.
Down two, Dylan Ennis missed a wide-open three-point attempt from the top of the circle in the final half-minute, ending a disastrous shooting night on which the junior was 2-for-12 overall and 0-for-6 from deep. Anthony Barber was fouled and sank two free throws, ending the most serious threat.
The Wolfpack —Sweet 16-bound for the second time in four seasons — were led in scoring by Trevor Lacey’s 17. Abdul-Malik Abu and Lennard Freeman combined for 24 points and 24 rebounds.
Villanova senior Darrun Hilliard II went out with lots of fight, scoring 27 in his final game.