March 10, 2003 RALEIGH During a span of seven days, N.C. State suffered two heartbreaking losses on last-second plays, a three-pointer by Maryland's Drew Nicholas and a string of free throws in the final two seconds by Wake Forest's Josh Howard.
In a midweek game, the Wolfpack nearly suffered the same fate against Clemson but got an outstanding defensive play from ailing senior Clifford Crawford to stave off a rally at Littlejohn Coliseum.
Before and after each game as well as all the buildup for the ACC Tournament the focus by the North Carolina media was about what would get the Wolfpack into the NCAA Tournament. It's a legitimate question at this time of the year, obviously, but the real answer wasn't as simple as close losses to two of the league's top three teams in the final week of the season.
The players know it, and so do the fans, which is why at least one of the spectators who showed up at the RBC Center for the regular-season finale against Wake Forest wielded a small green sign that read Fire Herb. That's not likely to happen, even if the Wolfpack's hanging-by-a-thread hopes of getting into the NCAA Tournament are dashed, but the sentiment was not out of line.
In retrospect, Sendek's team had four golden opportunities to establish itself for an NCAA Tournament berth. All it needed to do was win one or two games against Gonzaga, Massachusetts, Boston College and Temple. All four contests were against opponents with decent reputations, suffering through mediocre or worse seasons.
Other than the home loss to Boston College, the Wolfpack really never had a shot to win any of the games. That's the problem with State's season this year, not a questionable call by an official or a big-time play by a well-covered player. It's a frustrating thing to realize, for players and fans, but it is an impossible thing for coaches to admit.
We can't just keep playing basketball to get over the hump, Wolfpack junior Marcus Melvin said. We have to set ourselves up for success, instead of just winning games (late in the season) and hoping it gets us in the tournament.
Then we get in and lose in the first round. We don't want to do that. We have to go into the ACC Tournament looking to win all those games and have some momentum going into the NCAA Tournament. We are always looking to get over the hump.
It is a constant refrain for the Wolfpack, which always has done just enough under Sendek to keep the real wolves from knocking down the door. The exception was last year, when the coach needed a true turnaround season to save his job following a 13-16 disaster the year before. He and his team made the NCAA field with relative ease, thanks to important wins over Syracuse, Virginia (twice) and, in the ACC Tournament, eventual national champion Maryland. The Pack finished tied for third place in the league, behind the pretty good company of Duke and Maryland, the two most recent national champions.
This year, there was nothing wrong with the Wolfpack's 9-7 ACC record, except that the league outside of Wake Forest, Duke and Maryland was mediocre. The Pack even led at halftime in five of its 11 losses overall, trailed by one point in two others and was behind by two points in another. Obviously, this team can play for a while with just about anybody.
So finishing the regular-season with a 16-11 record, even with a winning conference mark, should be no guarantee, even if every other coach in that league says it deserves at least four teams. That's been a familiar refrain at ACC press conferences all season long.
The coaches, who always feel compelled in March to try to influence the media they shunned for most of the season, often fail to understand that the NCAA Tournament selection committee doesn't believe mediocre teams those constantly on the bubble, like the Wolfpack particularly deserve much of anything. At this point, only a big statement by the Pack in Greensboro will keep the team's destiny in its own hands.
Amato Gets Teacher, Seeks Another
Less than a week before the start of spring football practice, Wolfpack coach Chuck Amato filled one of two openings on his staff with former Tennessee offensive line coach Mike Barry.
Barry, who stepped down from the UT staff in January following the Volunteers' 30-3 loss to Maryland in the Peach Bowl, will replace Marty Galbraith, the Wolfpack offensive coordinator and line coach who left the program in February to join the staff of the Arizona Cardinals. Quarterbacks coach and possible offensive coordinator candidate Mike Canales later left NCSU to join the staff of the New York Jets.
Amato, who has ducked out of sight since signing day, taking a Nike-sponsored
vacation to Hawaii, has not yet discussed his thoughts on a new offensive coordinator,
but it seems unlikely that he will name one before spring practice
He did the exact same thing last year, after defensive coordinator Buddy Green left for Navy and defensive line coach Cary Godette was fired. Just before spring practice began, he elevated graduate assistant Manny Diaz to linebackers coach. Amato then waited until June to hire veteran coach Greg Williams, one of his teammates at State in the late 1960s.
This time, Amato hired Barry, who helped the Volunteers win a national championship with an undefeated season in 1998, to fill one of his most important needs and now may wait to hire a quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator.
Barry, 56, coached with Amato for two years in the early 1980s at Arizona, and the two have been friends ever since. All of Amato's hires at NCSU have been either relentless recruiters or expert teachers of the game, and several college coaches said Barry falls into the latter category. His recruiting roots are in the Midwest, which has not been part of the Pack's recruiting plan under Amato.
Barry said he nearly accepted a job with the Wolfpack three years ago, when Amato was first hired, but chose not to because of family considerations. He more recently earned high praise from former Georgia Tech coach George O'Leary, who had targeted Barry for his Notre Dame staff before O'Leary's well-publicized bio-graphy scandal came to light.
Amato, who seems to relish the spotlight of running his program differently than everyone else, won't necessarily give the dual title of QB coach and coordinator to his new hire. He may choose to go the same route he did last year, when the Wolfpack was the only Division I-A school without a defensive coordinator.
Murphy Digs Into Pockets Again
Major N.C. State booster Wendell Murphy gave up the naming rights for the school's new basketball arena to the Carolina Hurricanes and got a $10 million refund from the Wolfpack Club.
Now, Murphy and his family have given a gift of at least $5 million to the school to put the Murphy family name on the school's new $45 million Football Operations Center in the south end zone of Carter-Finley Stadium. Amato will move the football program into the 105,000-square-foot building by the end of March, after all construction and inspections are completed. He expects to be in the building in time for the team's April 12 Red & White spring game.
Murphy, a Rose Hill pork producer and avid contributor to his alma mater, was a member of the state legislature when funding was approved for State to move forward with building the new basketball arena. Though he was never officially identified, he had acquired the naming rights for the arena, which opened in 1999, for a gift to the university, but gave up those rights for a refund, so that the Carolina Hurricanes could negotiate a naming-rights deal that netted the NHL hockey franchise, the school and the arena an $80 million payout over 20 years from RBC Centura, a Rocky Mount-based bank.