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February 5, 2007

Lowe has the magic touch

Perhaps Sidney Lowe should share his secret for catching lightning in a bottle. He must know the trick. (Maybe that's the reason he always seems to be smiling?) How else could one man play an important role in two of the most unlikely upsets in history - not just NC State history, but in all of college basketball.

After all there was no way NC State was going to beat North Carolina on Saturday. Anybody who gave the home team a chance was blinded either by an intense love of the Wolfpack, a blinding hatred of the Tar Heels or both. UNC had everything that it needed to easily discard of NC State. The Pack had no depth and the Heels' bench could probably finish in the top half of the ACC. UNC's big guys, Tyler Hansbrough and Brandan Wright, were every bit as good, probably better, than NC State's two best players, forwards Brandon Costner and Ben McCauley. Freshman guards Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson were going to be way too much for NC State too handle, especially with Wolfpack senior Engin Atsur still bothered by a pulled hamstring and far too slow to keep up with such quickness. Yeah, there was no way NC State was going to win.

Then the teams took the court. Lowe came out in a red sport coat. Nice, the call back to the days of Jimmy Valvano might've provided a little bit of an emotional lift, but it was going to take a lot more than a gimmick wardrobe to even make this one close. But as Lowe made his entrance over on the North Carolina bench some of the assistant coaches, all of whom have been with Roy Williams for at least a decade, looked worried. Perhaps they could sense their guys weren't ready to play. It didn't take long for everyone else to see they were right.

The Tar Heels were sluggish. They played only token defense and their motion offense was out of sink. The Pack took an early 29-20 lead, but there weren't too many people that actually believed NC State could hang on. Yet as Courtney Fells knocked down his third three-pointer on the way to a career-high 21 points, anybody that had closely followed Roy Williams' 19-year career, including those nervous assistants, could sense what was happening.

Fells knocked down jump shots while the Heels refused to adjust their defensive game plan and the NC State sophomore began to look an awful lot like Miles Simon in 1997. And Cuttino Mobley in '98. Juan Dixon in 2002. Gerry McNamara in 2003. Lamar Butler in 2006 and all the other sharpshooters that have upset Williams in the past. Those UNC assistants had every reason to be worried, they'd seen this happen before.

UNC was about as bad as anyone could imagine, but NC State played close to perfect, which is exactly what it needed to do to have a chance to win and the Wolfpack deserves a ton of credit for that. There's a reason no one had predicted it and a reason the RBC Center was loud enough to make a person's ears ring. It was the kind of game you sometimes have to wait 24 years for.

Saturday's victory over No. 3 North Carolina won't live on as a part of our national folklore the way the 1983 national championship run made by Lowe and his Wolfpack teammates has. For one thing, no matter how sweet the moment was for NC State fans, it was still just a regular season game in early February. Chances are in a few weeks most people across the country will look at Lowe's first coaching victory over UNC as little more than a footnote in the 2006-07 season. But this one ranks right up there with upset of Houston in '83 title game and also the thrilling victory over the Tar Heels earlier that season in Reynolds Coliseum. And of course each game had one thing in common, one man who had a hand in all of them.

So come on Sidney, isn't about time you let the rest of us in on your secret?


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