By Norm Wood, email@example.com | 757-247-4642
7:13 PM EDT, March 14, 2013
GREENSBORO, N.C. — All the hugs and pats on the back Erick Green once had envisioned coming in the form of celebrations with his Virginia Tech teammates at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament came too soon.
In his perfect dream, those shared moments would've come along with a conference title, but this Tech team wasn't equipped for that kind of tournament run — not even close.
Instead, when he was finally taken off the Greensboro Coliseum floor Thursday with one minute and five seconds left in North Carolina State's 80-63 first-round win against No. 12 seed Tech, the applause from a crowd that mostly had nothing to do with Tech was polite, the embrace from Tech coach James Johnson was conciliatory and the moment was final.
"They told me four years were going to fly by, and I didn't believe it," said Green, the ACC player of the year who scored 15 points on just 5 of 19 shooting from the floor.
"It hurt, walking off with a loss because like (Johnson) said I'm a winner, and I've always been a winner, and I was looking forward to holding the trophy up and ending my college career as ACC champions. … It sucked, man, because I didn't want my college career to end like this."
With the win, No. 5 seed N.C. State moves into a Friday quarterfinal game at 2:30 p.m. against No. 4 seed Virginia. Tech (13-19) heads into the offseason with questions about how it will improve a group that was last in the ACC in scoring defense (74.8 points per game) and how it will replace a dynamic player like Green.
"The hard work he put in, he's always played with a chip on his shoulder," said Johnson, whose team lost 90-86 in overtime on Feb. 16 at N.C. State, but went on to suffer its last five losses by an average margin of 21.2 points per game. "He comes into college and no one thinks he should be a player in the ACC and he worked his tail off."
Though Green said after the game a knee injury that bugged him late in the season had no bearing on his poor play, he lacked his usual explosiveness with the ball in his hands while being guarded by N.C. State's Lorenzo Brown, who had nine points, seven rebounds, 12 assists and just two turnovers.
"We did a good job on Erick Green and I thought Lorenzo was terrific in his one-on-one defense with Green," said N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried, whose team was led by Richard Howell's 22 points on 11 of 13 shooting from the floor and 12 rebounds. "I thought we did a much better job of helping him than we did the first time we played Virginia Tech [when Green had 29 points]."
While Green struggled to get going, Tech got a strong effort from Jarell Eddie, who finished with 21 points on 9 of 14 shooting from the floor. It was just the second time in the last 12 games he shot better than 40 percent, and his point total matched a career-high against ACC opponents.
Tech shot 50 percent from the floor in the first half, but it finished the game shooting 41.7 percent after making only 35.3 percent in the second half.
Tech managed to stay within striking distance until N.C. State (23-9) used a 14-4 run during a span of just over four minutes to take a 57-42 lead with 12:38 left. Tech never cut the deficit under 10 points the rest of the way.
In addition to his off shooting day, Green also committed four turnovers — all in the first half. His only assist came on a garbage-time pass to walk-on Christian Beyer one second before Green checked out of the game for good.
"Everybody was in the gaps," said Green, who finished with a nation-leading average of 25 points per game. "When I penetrated, they were right there. Even in transition, I was seeing two or three players back there waiting for me, but I knew that going in that they were going to key on me. I should have tried to make plays but the ball wasn't falling for me."
N.C. State shot 52.8 percent from the floor. Howell served as the catalyst for N.C. State's 40-25 rebounding advantage.
Eddie said his lasting memory of the season will be how Green's effort. Not being able to help Green see more of the postseason will also linger.
"That was tough," Eddie said. "I really wanted us to win this game and win the next game, but to see him struggle like that is really frustrating for me because he's one of my best friends."
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