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March 23, 2012
ST. LOUIS, Mo. — North Carolina State is heading home after being denied its first Elite 8 appearance since 1986.
The Wolfpack can thank Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson for that.
Withey, a 7-foot redshirt junior center, had 10 blocks to go along with eight points, and Robinson added 18 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to lead No. 2 seed Kansas to a 60-57 Sweet 16 victory.
"Oh, I was definitely feeling it," Withey said. "In the first half they just kept coming at me and I was just able to get in a defensive zone. Everything they put up, I was swatting away and denying."
Withey wrecked havoc in the paint all night for the Wolfpack, racking up seven first half blocks.
The blocks were a huge part of a team-wide defensive effort the Jayhawks. Kansas limited NC State to a 28-percent clip from the field (19 for 67) on the night.
"I definitely have to say this is the best defensive team that I've played on in my four years here," Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor said. "The things Withey did tonight with all those blocks was incredible; he did a great job for us."
Robinson turned in his usual performance while his fellow big night highlighted an impressive defensive effort.
The listed 6-10 junior nearly had a double-double at half, grabbing nine rebounds and adding 11 points, most coming on jump hooks.
"I think it's the only thing I had going for me offensively," Robinson said. "Instead of going away from me like in the past couple games, it was just I was listening to coach and just kept throwing it over my left shoulder and I came up good with it."
Somehow the Wolfpack managed to hold their own in a game where they struggled to find any form of a consistent offense.
NC State led 33-32 at the half thanks to a 5-0 run to close the first half.
The Wolfpack jumped all over Kansas to open the game, grabbing a 13-3 lead 14 minutes, 51 seconds into the contest.
NC State extended its lead to 17-11 on a C.J. Williams with just over 12 minutes to play, but Kansas responded with an impressive run.
The Jayhawks went on a 12-0 run, holding the Wolfpack scoreless for nearly six minutes.
"It wasn't the prettiest game that I've ever seen on both sides because neither team made shots," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "But I thought we guarded, we didn't rebound great, but our first shot defense was terrific for the most part all night long."
The Wolfpack had more issues than just trailing Kansas; NC State had its three premier post players in foul trouble in the opening half.
C.J. Leslie, Richard Howell, and DeShawn Painter all had two fouls apiece. The foul trouble eventually caught up to NC State.
Leslie picked up his third and fourth fouls early in the second half, the latter coming at the 15:55 mark.
"The one thing that was tough was that he was the one guy that was somewhat efficient," NCSU coach Mark Gottfried said. "Everybody else seemed to be struggling offensively. We struggled to score inside. Their length bothered us around the basket. That's happened to us a couple times this year. The teams that are just that long, we're not a big, tall team. We're quick, but the length bothered us some.
"I thought Calvin was the one guy that was actually getting something done offensively. So when he was out of the game, it really affected us on that end of the floor more than anything."
NC State managed to hang around with Leslie on the bench, trailing 42-35 when the sophomore sat down, and only trailed 53-45 when Leslie checked back in over eight minutes later.
The Wolfpack stayed in the game thanks in large part to their defensive effort. NCSU held the Jayhawks to 7-percent shooting (1 of 14) from beyond the arc on the night.
Things got interesting late as the Wolfpack trailed 56-47 with just over six minutes remaining. NCSU never faltered, climbing back in the game with a 10-2 run to make it a 58-57 game with 1:18 left.
"Late in the game, we just wanted to be a little bit more focused and just really, really get focused," Leslie said. "And really work on what we need to work on whatever that is; if it's running the offense or if it's playing defense, just really focus in on it and do what we need to do late in the game."
NC State had a chance for the lead when Leslie grabbed a Scott Wood three-point miss, but Withey came up with his 10th and final block of the game.
After a Kansas basket on an inbounds pass under the Wolfpack's goal, NC State failed to convert on their last chances.
Trailing 60-57 and coming out of a timeout with 13 seconds remaining, sophomore point guard Lorenzo Brown threw a cross-court pass to Wood for a three-point attempt, but Wood stepped on the sideline resulting in a turnover.
NC State had one final chance on a full court pass with 2.9 seconds left, but a Howell 3-pointer came up short sending the Jayhawks faithful into jubilee.
NC State was able to revive its program under Gottfried, and welcome a No. 4-ranked recruiting class next year. The future appears bright in Raleigh.
"We just brought it night in and night out," Wood said. "Whether it was off a four-game losing streak or riding a winning steak, every practice we came with the mindset that we were going to get better.
"I feel like we knew we could be a really dangerous team. And we started to click at the end of the year and ending up making it to the Sweet 16. But by any means, especially for the people coming back, we're not satisfied.
"We feel like we have got some good talent coming in, and we have got some good talent returning, and hopefully next year we can build on this."