Mark Gottfried has accomplished his goal of turning North Carolina State into a perennial NCAA Tournament team.
Now, after two Sweet 16 runs in four seasons, the goal is to keep making those trips to March last longer.
With Friday's loss to Louisville in the East Region semifinals, it marked the fourth time in as many seasons that Gottfried had guided the Wolfpack (22-14) to the NCAA Tournament — he inherited a program that had missed the tournament for five straight years — and marked the third time N.C. State won at least one tournament game.
"The guys coming back for our team, this should be something that motivates them to work extremely hard in springtime and summer," Gottfried said after the 75-65 loss to the Cardinals in Syracuse, New York. "We tasted it. We tasted what it's like to be in this situation, and now it's got to be one of those where they should want it more."
North Carolina State started the year picked to finish ninth in the 15-team ACC after losing high-scoring league player of the year T.J. Warren to the NBA. But the arrival of Alabama transfer Trevor Lacey, the 3-point shooting of fifth-year senior Ralston Turner and the eventual growth of speedy point guard Anthony "Cat" Barber gave this team a top-tier backcourt to build around.
North Carolina State handed Duke its first loss, but looked like it was sliding out of NCAA contention when it lost six of eight heading into mid-February. But a road win at Louisville sparked a late surge that included the program's first win against North Carolina in Chapel Hill since Roy Williams' arrival a decade ago.
Then came an unforgettable opening weekend in the NCAA Tournament, starting with rallying from 16 down to beat LSU on BeeJay Anya's last-second basket then an upset of No. 1 seed Villanova to return to the round of 16 for the first time since 2012.
"There was a point in the season when people said, 'NIT, they're not going to make it to the tournament,' but we never put our heads down," freshman forward Abdul-Malik Abu said. "We tried to persevere and look at us now. A lot of teams have put their jerseys away before us."
North Carolina State will lose Turner's 13 points per game and his ability to stretch defenses with his outside shot, but the Wolfpack will add West Virginia transfer Terry Henderson to the backcourt.
Henderson, who has two years of eligibility left, sat out this season after averaging 11.7 points for the Mountaineers in 2013-14 and shooting 39 percent from behind the arc over two seasons in Morgantown.
North Carolina State also loses senior reserve guard Des Lee, but is expected to return Lacey and Barber along with twin freshman wins Caleb and Cody Martin to the perimeter. There's also a quartet of big men in Abu, Anya, Kyle Washington and Lennard Freeman — all of whom all had good moments in a rotation that allowed Gottfried flexibility to match up with opponents.
Gottfried said the Louisville loss was "a tough way to end it" but added he was "extremely pleased" by "a heck of a run."
The trick now is to keep doing it.
"People were sleeping on us this year," Washington said. "We're going to come back bigger and better."
AP Sports Writer John Kekis in Syracuse, New York contributed to this report.
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