Ralston Turner needed a change. The coach who recruited him to LSU was gone. The one coming in was friendly but hardly a friend.

When North Carolina State coach Mark Gottfried offered Turner a fresh start three years ago, the versatile guard jumped and didn't look back.

"It was probably one of the toughest decisions I ever made," Turner said. "I don't regret it."

Neither, in retrospect, do the Tigers. Both will get a chance to see how far the other has come on Thursday, when Turner and eighth-seeded N.C. State (20-13) plays ninth-seeded LSU (22-10) in the second round of the NCAA tournament in Pittsburgh.

Turner has evolved into the steadying senior presence on a team that is once again a March fixture under Gottfried. The Tigers and third-year coach Johnny Jones have revived a stagnant program behind sophomore forwards Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin.

LSU came as close as anyone to knocking off No. 1 Kentucky, letting a second-half lead slip away in a 71-69 loss on Feb. 10 that served as both a lost opportunity and a wake-up call. The Tigers realized they could play with anybody. The problem is that they can lose to anybody, too.

In the last month, LSU beat Arkansas on the road and lost to upstart Auburn in the SEC tournament quarterfinals. Playing with confidence isn't a problem. Playing consistently - particularly in the final minutes - is another matter.

LSU will need to be better against the rapidly improving Wolfpack, whose resumé includes wins over Duke, Louisville, and North Carolina.

N.C. State and Turner know what it's like to play this time of year. The Tigers, making their first appearance in the NCAAs since 2009, do not.

Jones is doing his best to prepare his players for what awaits but knows in the end they're kind of on their own.