PITTSBURGH - Abdul-Malik Abu just kept jumping. This kid from Boston may still be jumping. We can confirm Villanova had five players on the Consol Energy Center court at the time, but that basketball coming off the rim was glued to Abu's hands first because they were highest and closest.
Both of Villanova's starting big men were on the floor, lower to the ground. That's the play that should stick to the torture column of 'Nova's NCAA history even though it only resulted in one point after a free throw. It still was perfectly symbolic of it all. A North Carolina State employee kept yelling from the front row, "A freshman is using you!"
Forget the 71-68 final score, the score that should stick to this one is 34-14. That was the points in the paint.
"Their bigs have never been this good," a North Carolina State beat reporter noted along press row, watching the carnage from the baseline closest to the second-half damage site.
The man had his facts down. Starting forward Lennard Freeman, who put in 5 of 7 shots for 11 points, only the second time all season he reached double digits. His previous high of 10 was against Jacksonville on Nov. 20.
For a team like Villanova, if it can't make threes, then the advantage of going small swings wildly to other side. Not that it mattered who was out there. Villanova coach Jay Wright acknowledged that.
"I think it was a combination of their guards breaking us down and forcing our forwards to come to help - and they're very disciplined. . . . When their guards drive, their forwards are not looking to catch passes. They're looking to go offensive rebound. They did it all year. They did it to LSU."
They sure did, or North Carolina State wouldn't have even been here, coming from nowhere the other night, apparently for the express purpose of taking out a top seed.
Wright wanted to comment more on how it wasn't just his big guys losing personal battles, not that he was making alibis for them.
"Guard comes at you . . . it's a quick decision," Wright said, referring to inside players. "Do I have to come and help, or do I let them take the shot and stick with my man for a rebound? We had some poor decisions that way. But again, you've got to give N.C. State credit. They came hard at the rim, and we couldn't. We couldn't get a lineup on the floor that could control the glass."
Then Wright added, "Again, it was the guards getting beat by their guards."
"My parents told me to go out and work hard," said Abu. "I pride my game off of just working hard."
At the other end, weirder stuff was going down. Early on, Villanova was down four, and the ball got in to big man Daniel Ochefu. It's hard to get a higher-percentage shot than a dunk by your 6-foot-11 center. But the dunk attempt did what most Villanova shots in the first half had done: It found the rim.
Darrun Hilliard knew it wasn't just missed threes that hurt 'Nova, although he couched it this way: "I don't think missing those layups or those easy baskets really fazed us. It was just our decision-making in taking them."
Asked earlier this week about what could go wrong - do not blame the man for his answer, that was the question he was asked, about what teams need to have to beat 'Nova - former Villanova coach Steve Lappas had it exactly right when he said the key is not necessarily getting into a shooting contest with the Cats. He talked about how "really active, long, athletic guys I think can bother them."
Right now, Lappas probably isn't looking for credit for being right.
"We needed the play from our inside guys," North Carolina State coach Mark Gottfried said. "We certainly wanted to go inside best as we could."