On Saturday, I watched something I didn’t think could happen for another 2 years. Sidney Lowe defeated the vaunted North Carolina Tar Heels. Roy Williams, though stockpiled with double the amount of weapons had no answer for a team tired of being considered a third wheel.
NC State’s tenure as a force in college basketball ran out as Les Robinson depleted their stature with terrible shooters and awkward looking big men. He was the answer to scandalous times—NC State’s version of Bush as a family man. Robinson was likable and State knew they wouldn’t have to worry about point shaving, academic failures or recruiting violations for awhile. They had teams with heart you loved to root for, but you knew they had no chance. It was like watching John Cryer in Pretty in Pink. EVERYTHING had to go perfectly for them to win. I remember hearing about them losing to Florida Atlantic (giving the Owls their first Division I victory in basketball). I remember Jeremy Hyatt, CC Harrison, and the flattest three point shot in history—Mr. Ishua Benjamin. They were all great guys—
Then State saw the arrival of Herb Sendek. Sendek was the manifestation of Robinson’s teams in one man. He was Ducky. He was the man behind Hodge, Melvin, Evtimov and a separate cavalcade of “not quite prime time” big men that all left early for some reason or another (not being used to their potential). However the failures of Sendek’s career are measured by alumni and rabid fans, he was more successful than anyone could have hoped. There’s the danger though—he gave State fans hope. That proved to be his undoing. Since State’s third wheel mentality is fueled by those who know the history of Wolfpack coaches—the big three being the forefront in Everett Case (the father of the ACC), Norm Sloan, and Jimmy Valvano. Sendek’s real failure was making NC State visible. They were never going to transcend the slow offense and inability to win on tobacco road. Sendek won but wasn’t a winner. His body language proved it. He constantly looked like a kid with full sleeve tattoos and a leather jacket was escorting his daughter through his country club—he wanted things to go well, but he had no power to actually make it happen. The constant red faced, tie-loosening routine had no panache (it doesn’t pay to say “we get no respect” in sports unless your players take that into their own hands).
The difference between Sidney Lowe’s approach—in his young collegiate coaching career—and the two men before him is not just that he beat
Instead of going after calls, he’s making adjustments. Instead of benching Grant and company after mistakes, he’s teaching men how to get out of situations. Instead of playing to be ahead, he’s showing kids how to win despite being behind. All of this came to fruition yesterday during two critical time periods—just before halftime when Carolina stormed back to tie the game, and in the second half after a thunderous dunk by Tyler Hansbrough. The lead was cut to one possession or tied a few times, actually, and every time I looked over to the side Sidney Lowe used his “Slow Down and run the offense” face. Engin Atsur responded brilliantly (the MVP of yesterday’s win), as did the big men and Courtney Fells (who is beginning to remind me of a more freakishly athletic Rodney Monroe during his hot streaks). This is not a tournament bound team, by any means. However, the fact that they won two straight against ranked opponents with their leader back from injury shows me they want to be. They believe they can be. That is more than I expected from a first time coach and a slew of kids playing against the “will” of
As the students rushed the court yesterday, I was reminded of when I was growing up. I knew
Yesterday was a prototypical next-level win. Even the announcers knew State didn’t win despite themselves; they won because they played the perfect game against a team as young as they were. They played a patient, ball control offense (turnovers be damned) and a stifling interior defense (Hansbrough’s 24 points be damned). What State discovered against