DALLAS (AP)—Herb Sendek knew his N.C. State Wolfpack only needed a little prodding to break out of their four-game losing streak. So before they opened the NCAA tournament, he treated them to a highlight film of the great plays they made this season.
Cameron Bennerman was certainly paying attention—especially to the clip of him burying a clutch 3-pointer to force overtime against Clemson back in January.
Bennerman faked a defender and made another 3 from nearly the same spot on the right side of the arc, this time with 32.3 seconds left, sending 10th-seeded N.C. State past California 58-52 Friday night in the first round of the Atlanta Regional.
“You need special players to step up and make plays and Cameron’s been that guy for us throughout the season,” Sendek said. “He was really special tonight. Down the stretch, he made the field goals that allowed us to have the lead that we finished with.”
The senior swingman led the Wolfpack (22-9) with 18 points. He scored seven during a 16-4 run that began with N.C. trailing by six, then made a tough 15-footer after the Golden Bears (20-11) rallied to tie it at 50.
His next shot broke a tie at 52 and was the game-winner. He set it up with a pump fake that sent Cal forward Rod Benson running past him, creating a good look at the basket.
“We played solid and took away their first, second and third options,” Bears guard Ayinda Ubaka said. “The man just made a great move and he made a great shot.”
Ubaka tried answering with a wild 3 from the right corner that didn’t even hit the rim.
“I thought that was the best shot I could get,” he said. “I just rushed it and missed.”
The Wolfpack had the longest losing streak of any team coming into the tournament, but this win made the selection committee look good. Now they hope to win a second game, as they did last year when they also had a 10 seed. They play Sunday against Texas.
Cal was counting on riding sensational sophomore Leon Powe, but N.C. State did a terrific job neutralizing him.
Powe—rhymes with his nickname “Show”—was coming off a Pac-10 tournament in which he set single-game records for points and rebounds, but was held to 14 points and 12 rebounds by a defense that swarmed him every chance it could.
“It always seemed there were people in the lane waiting for me,” Powe said. “They wouldn’t allow me to get the ball where I wanted and that made it tough.”
The burly forward scored the Bears’ first two baskets, then made only three more. The last came with 16:57 left, although he hit a pair of free throws to tie it at 50.
Ubaka tied it at 52 on a long jumper with 1:06 left. Officials checked a replay to determine whether it was a 3, then correctly ruled that his toes were on the line.
Bennerman’s big shot also had to hold up to a replay. As officials went to the monitor, Benson walked slowly to the bench, stopping to put his hands on his head and arching his back in frustration.
Cedric Simmons scored 12 for the Wolfpack and did much of the dirty work against Powe.
N.C. State made 21-of-42 shots, but only 5-of-16 on 3-pointers. Bennerman’s winner was his only basket behind the arc.
Benson scored 13 for Cal, but 10 came in the first half, when he took advantage of the Wolfpack’s attention to Powe. The easy baskets were no longer there for the rest of the Bears, as they went from making 52 percent of their shots before halftime to only 33 percent the rest of the way.
Cal’s Richard Midgley, whose 3-pointer with 3.9 seconds left beat the Wolfpack in the first round three years ago, shot an air ball on his first attempt—another 3—and finished with three points.
The shot of the game came from Bears sophomore Omar Wilkes, who in one leap caught, spun and fired a long 3-pointer as the 35-second clock was expiring. It was Cal’s only basket during N.C. State’s 16-4 run.