TAMPA, Fla. - Sidney Lowe's last Atlantic Coast Conference championship game sparked the most improbable run in NCAA tournament history.
Lowe was the star point guard on Jim Valvano's North Carolina State team that won the ACC title in 1983, earned a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament and then became the lowest seed to win it all.
Lowe would love to do it again - this time as a coach.
Gavin Grant scored 20 points, Courtney Fells added 16 and the Wolfpack beat Virginia Tech 72-64 on Saturday to send the first-year coach - and his signature red jacket - to the ACC title game against eighth-ranked and top-seeded North Carolina.
"This would mean a great deal," Lowe said. "The way we're doing it right now is very similar to what a lot of our fans saw back in 1983. It just would be an outstanding accomplishment for this ballclub."
Grant was 4-of-9 from the field, but perfect (11-of-11) from the free throw line. And free throw shooting proved to be the difference.
The 10th-seeded Wolfpack (18-14) made 24 of 28 free throws, while the third-seeded Hokies (21-11) were 8-of-19 from the stripe.
"To not be able to step up to the line and make a free throw is like a turnover, and obviously it set us back a tad," Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg said. "We had a chance to win. We just didn't do the little things. It's one stop, one rebound, one better decision and probably make a couple of free throws."
North Carolina State and North Carolina split their two regular-season meetings, but the Wolfpack have been on a roll since losing six of eight games to close out the regular season.
Maybe it was the jacket - the red blazer Lowe first donned in a win against the rival Tar Heels in early February. He broke it out again in the tournament, and his team followed with wins against Duke and Virginia in the first two rounds.
This one might have been even more impressive, especially since they were playing a third straight day.
"I told them before we came here that special things happen to someone here every year, whether it's a player who emerges and becomes a great star and goes on, or it's a team that does something special," Lowe said. "And I told them, â€˜Why not be that team?'"
Lowe's 1983 team certainly was.
He said there are similarities between the two clubs.
"There were no real expectations from this ballclub coming in here," Lowe said. "When we came in (in '83), nobody gave us an opportunity or a chance to be in the final game of the ACC tournament. And then just the way we're winning these games. They are tough ballgames. We've made plays down the stretch when we need to. We've made free throws. I think our team did the same thing in '83."
And like the '83 team, the Wolfpack will need to win the ACC to get to the NCAA tournament.
"We came here to play, compete and win the tournament," Grant said. "We know this is the only opportunity we have to get into the NCAA tournament. My first two years here we went to the NCAA tournament. I don't think I'd want it any other way. We're definitely going to be competing."
State did Saturday. The team led by as many as 10 points late in the first half, but looked like it might fade early in the second half. Virginia Tech used a 10-4 run coming out of the locker room to make it 35-all.
But Grant - much like he did against Virginia when he scored nine points in the final two minutes - took over. The 6-foot-7 forward touched the ball nearly every time down the floor, drove inside, drew fouls and got to the free throw line.
His impressive shooting from the stripe was somewhat surprising since he entered the game as a 74 percent free throw shooter.
Fells helped out, too. He made a baseline jumper with about six minutes remaining that doubled a two-point lead. His 3-pointer with 1:33 to play was even bigger, making it 61-52.
Tech could have kept it close, but Coleman Collins and Jamon Gordon each missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Collins did it twice.
Zabian Dowdell led the Hokies with 15 points. Gordon had 12 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and three steals.
The Wolfpack were nearly perfect from the stripe down the stretch - Grant made six in row in the final three minutes, and Ben McCauley sank all four of his.
"It seemed like they couldn't miss from the free throw line," Dowdell said. "Obviously, we didn't do a good job of knocking down our free throws or I think the game would have come out different."
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