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Nothing easy in NIT so far for Wolfpack

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N.C. State is one win away from reaching the NIT Final Four in New York City. While it is not the NCAA Tournament and the Wolfpack has not faced major conference opposition, that does not mean the first two postseason games have been easy. 

Following a tough win March 19 against a Hofstra team with which N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts was quite familiar from his days at UNCW, the Wolfpack nipped Ivy League regular-season champion Harvard, 78-77, Sunday at Valvano Arena in Reynolds Coliseum. 

The victory gives the Pack a 24-11 mark in Keatts’ second season in charge. While N.C. State may have been the more marquee name in its first two NIT outings, winning is a privilege earned and not a birthright. 

“When we were chosen to go to the NIT, everybody showed up for us,” Keatts said. “The two teams we’ve played could easily win a game in the NCAA and so could we. We played two teams who were champions in their league I have to be honest with you, as I watched tape on Hofstra and Harvard I knew we’d play two very good basketball teams.”

The Pack can book passage to Manhattan with a win over Lipscomb on Wednesday evening, with opening tip set for 9 p.m. in the “Old Barn.” The Bison knocked off top-seeded UNCG in its second-round game, which made it possible for N.C. State to host a third consecutive NIT contest.   

“Basketball in March is about the players, not the coaches,” Keatts said. “It’s been great.  Reynolds is great but let’s not cheapen our fans and what they do at the PNC they do a tremendous job too.  It gets loud and it’s a great place to play.

“I’m excited to get another home game. It’s fortunate for us because we get a chance to play at home again.”

A win means a trip to New York and Madison Square Garden. It is not the NCAA Tournament, but the Wolfpack is seeking to make the best of its situation and desperately wants to win. 

“When it’s tournament time it doesn’t matter what conference they come from,” N.C. State wing Devon Daniels said. “Every game we have to bring it. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing.”

MOORE GAMES TO PLAY

A second consecutive Sweet 16 appearance is in the cards for N.C. State. Behind double-doubles from Kiara Leslie, DD Rogers, and Elissa Cunane, the Wolfpack earned a spot in the regional semifinals with a 72-57 win over Kentucky on Monday. 

The Pack is now 28-5 overall and will face Iowa on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. in Greensboro. The winner gets a matchup versus the victor of the Baylor/South Carolina contest that will begin around 30 minutes after N.C. State and the Hawkeyes are finished. 

N.C. State will be making its 14th appearance in the Sweet 16 in program history and second straight. The Wolfpack’s 28 wins are the most in a season since the 1979-80 campaign. 

Wes Moore is now 140-57 overall in his six seasons at N.C. State. He spent the previous 15 seasons at Chattanooga. The two Sweet 16 appearances with the Wolfpack are his only two as head coach in his career. 

“I just couldn’t be prouder of a team or a group of young ladies,” Moore said Monday. “Our two seniors (Leslie and Rogers) set the tone from the start of the game with their toughness, and this freshman (Cunane) isn’t too bad either. They just keep amazing me.”

DOEREN EXTENSION ANNOUNCED

N.C. State has announced that head coach Dave Doeren’s contracted has been extended through the 2023 season. 

The new agreement was originally negotiated in November and was approved by the N.C. State Board of Trustees along with the UNC System Office only recently.

With the new deal, Doeren’s salary will bump up from $3 million to $3.25 annually. 

The 2019 campaign will be Doeren’s seventh season as head coach of the Wolfpack. He has a 43-34 overall mark (20-28 in ACC play) at N.C. State. Prior to arriving in Raleigh he spent two seasons as the head coach at Northern Illinois and has a career record of 66-38. 

The Wolfpack have earned a bowl berth in five consecutive seasons and are coming off consecutive 9-4 finishes in 2017 and 2018. 

 “I’m grateful for the commitment and support N.C. State has provided to my family and I,” Doerens said in a statement released by the school. “This university and community are home to us, we’re excited with what we’re building with N.C. State football and I look forward to continuing to lead this program.” 

On Wednesday, N.C. State will host its annual Pro Day. The annual Kay Yow Spring Game will be held at Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday, April 6, at 1 p.m. 

PACK NEARING KNIGHT TIME 

With Reggie Gallaspy gone due to graduation and Ricky Person nursing an injury, there are some question marks at running back for N.C. State. Former Southern Nash High standout Zonovan Knight is working towards giving the Wolfpack all of the answers. 

N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren spoke Tuesday as his team prepares for its spring game in April. He singled out Knight for individual praise among the freshmen that enrolled early. 

“I think probably Zonovan Knight of the true freshman class has put together the best body of work so far,” Doeren said. “He’s really done a nice job.”

The Wolfpack have had a running back rush for over 1,000 yards in each of the last three seasons. Doeren has coached two of the top seven rushers in N.C. State history. 

Time will tell if Knight can put his name in the N.C. State history books but early on his demeanor and ability in practice has drawn praise from his head coach. 

“He’s very calm and a very explosive guy,” Doeren said. “He doesn’t get rattled. He’s impressive; he really is.” 

Rob McLamb of Inside Pack Sports has covered N.C. State athletics and recruiting since 2012. You can follow him on Twitter @RobMcLamb.

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