PITTSBURGH - This was the year Villanova was supposed to wipe out the memories of past failures and finally get over the hump to make it to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament for the first time since its Final Four season of 2009.
The Wildcats had missed as a No. 2 seed twice - in 2010 and last season. Certainly their chances for advancing to the Sweet 16 would be better as a No. 1 seed.
But instead of moving on, the Wildcats are going home.
They suffered through one of their worst shooting games of the season and were unable to come up with key defensive rebounds down the stretch Saturday night in a 71-68 upset loss to No. 8 seed North Carolina State in an NCAA East Regional third-round matchup at Consol Energy Center.
The Wildcats (33-3) set program records for most victories and most consecutive victories (16) in a single season. But instead, it will be the Wolfpack (22-13) of the ACC who move on to Syracuse and a Sweet 16 game against the winner of Sunday night's game between Louisville and Northern Iowa.
"I know we have to answer to the fact that we did not get to the second weekend again," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "We have to own that. But it's not going to define us within our program. It's going to define us outside of our program, and we accept that.
"We're not afraid to fail. We failed here in this NCAA tournament, and we've just got to accept it, and we've got to own it and live with it. But it's not going to define us."
The Wildcats struggled from the opening tip, uncharacteristically missing layups, air-balling three-point shots, and getting beat to rebounds. The Wolfpack held a 45-32 edge on the boards.
The Cats shot 31.1 percent from the floor, nearly matching their worst shooting day of the season, in their loss at Seton Hall. Darrun Hilliard, who poured in 27 points in his final game in a Villanova uniform, made six three-pointers in 10 attempts, and Phil Booth was 3 for 4, but the rest of the team went 0 for 14 from deep.
"We weren't really worried about our misses," Hilliard said. "We got great looks, got to the basket, and we just had to go in at halftime and work on our decision-making. I don't think missing those layups or those easy baskets really fazed us. It was just our decision-making in taking them."
Wright said he didn't think the Wildcats were tight early, it was just they were too overaggressive.
"I thought we took some shots where we could have made extra passes," he said. "I think that's something that's been an advantage for us this year. They did a great job contesting them, whereas we normally make extra passes. I think you've got to give them some credit."
The Wildcats shot 28.6 percent in the first half and trailed by 32-28 at the break. They fell behind by as many as 12, 45-33, on Malik Abu's layup with 13 minutes, 34 seconds to play.
It was quite an uphill battle from there. North Carolina State got four points off three offensive rebounds. A reverse layup by Anthony "Cat" Barber kept the Wolfpack comfortably in front, 66-59, with 1:41 to play.
But Hilliard hit a pair of threes to reduce the deficit to 67-65, and a turnover by Trevor Lacey at 36.8 seconds gave the Wildcats a chance to tie or take the lead. But Dylan Ennis missed his sixth straight three-point attempt, and Barber answered with two free throws.
Hilliard nailed another three at the 1.7-second mark to make it 69-68, but Ralston Turner sank two free throws, and Josh Hart's desperation pass into the frontcourt was intercepted, and that was the season.
"Three times, three games this year, we just weren't able to" win, junior guard Ryan Arcidiacono said. "The other team was better that day. You just have to credit N.C. State for the way they played. But that doesn't define our whole season."