Despite having never played them at home, Princeton still holds a 5-1 all-time record versus NC State and has won each of the last five meetings dating back to the 1965 NCAA Tournament.
Today, I'm going to focus on the previous four times the Tigers have played the Wolfpack, as the two teams faced off on four occasions between 1991 and 1999.
Like in our well-received historical pieces Twelve years of season openers, Rutgers in the 2000s, The last four games against Duke and Lavietes Pavilion: Where anything could happen, will happen and probably already has happened, read on for a multi-media bonanza of words, pictures, videos and memories from this quartet of Princeton victories.
The first of these games took place on December 18, 1991 at NC State. Ivy League Player of the Year to be Sean Jackson hit his fifth three pointer of the night with 1:47 left in overtime to provide the Tigers with a two point lead.
Princeton had to rally from down five with just under five minutes remaining in regulation. A Chris Mooney basket and two hoops by Rick Hielscher dissolved the deficit.
Jackson led Princeton's scoring with 15 (5-12 from three point range) and the sophomore Mooney complimented this effort with 13 of his own before fouling out. 1992 NBA lottery pick Tom Gugliotta was the game's high man with 18 for the Wolfpack but did not score in the extra frame.
A front end free throw by senior George Leftwich, a 63.6% shooter from the line, provided the final margin 50-47.
Facing a sizable front court the Tigers launched 30 times from behind the arc, making nine.
NC State did not score over the final 3:10 of overtime, including a pair of airballed three point tries.
The game, like so many in these series, was broadcast by ESPN.
Said Jackson ten years later:
"The NC State game my senior year where we won in OT in Raleigh has to be included [on a list of the three biggest and best games he was involved in at Princeton]. That game was pivotal because we had some tough games early on, and that put us over the hump before the Ivy League season."
Read another report in the Daily Princetonian.
363 days later the two teams met again, this time at the Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford as the back half of a sparsely attended doubleheader that opened with Iona's defeat of Wagner.
Junior Chris Pavlic scored a game-high 18 as Princeton pulled away in the second half for a 50-41 victory.
Tied at 30 the Tigers went on a 12-3 run.
A Pavlic three from the top of the key made it a nine point game with 3:38 to go.
Princeton was able to keep the pace slow, repeatedly taking the 45 second shot clock into single digits.
Getting only 540 seconds of overall support from their bench, Mike Brennan (14 points) and Chris Mooney (13 points) each played all 40 minutes.
NC State had been averaging 76 points per game before their visit to New Jersey.
A full box score can be found here.
The Brendan Byrne Arena was now the Continental Airlines Arena come 1997 as both Princeton and NC State started their 97-98 seasons with the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, the first time this event was a tournament instead of individual games and the last time these games were played outside of Madison Square Garden.
On night one the Tigers knocked off #22 Texas 62-56 and NC State surprised #19 Georgia, 47-45.
The championship game was played with experimental rules - four 10 minute quarters and a 40 second shot clock.
Princeton shook off a poor start consisting of five turnovers on their first nine possessions.
It was a three point Tiger lead with under a minute to play when Archie Miller tied the game with a three pointer for the Wolfpack.
Gabe Lewullis found Brian Earl for a backdoor layup that was goaltended by Ishua Benjamin with :02.7 to go, giving Princeton the win and the title. Sadly, video of this final play has been removed from YouTube.
A tip from Benjamin was no good as time expired.
Earl led all scorers with 15 points and was named the tournament's MVP, his third straight tournament MVP honor. Steve Goodrich played all 40 minutes and joined Earl on the all-tournament team.
Princeton won despite not attempting a free throw. 14 of the Tigers' 15 baskets, including the final bucket, game off an assist.
Read more in the Daily Princetonian.
A box score can be found here.
While their prior meeting was in the second game of the season, the most recent time Princeton and NC State faced off was the penultimate game of 1998-99 for the Tigers.
Brian Earl and Gabe Lewullis were now seniors, forced to do it all at the beginning of the year but complimented by Chris Young and Mason Rocca the orange and black developed into the best Ivy team of the past 15 years to not win the conference title.
After defeating Georgetown at Jadwin Gym in the first round of the NIT, a game where five Tigers each played 40 minutes with no substitutions, Princeton traveled down to Raleigh.
If the Wolfpack - who were 16-3 at home that season - lost, it would be the final game at Reynolds Coliseum.
It did not look good early. Princeton trailed 17-10 when Bill Carmody brought C.J. Champman in for Ahmed El-Nokali. Chapman had not scored in six games but knocked down the first of five consecutive three point shots for the Tigers.
Brian Earl answered every NC State charge and his reverse layup with 7:38 to go put Princeton up 49-36.
Determined to play one more time at Reynolds, the Wolfpack answered with a 19-9 spurt. Ron Kelly's follow with :49 showing drew the home team within 58-55.
Princeton came dangerously close to throwing the ball away but El-Nokali was able to save an errant cross court pass in front of the Princeton bench. With the shot clock dwindling Earl drove to his right and somehow banked in a one-handed push shot using his body to shield off his defender with four seconds until the buzzer to send the Tigers into the NIT quarterfinals.
Reynolds Coliseum was closed.
Earl was quoted afterwards saying "This is a great place. This is the kind of place that you think about playing in when you're a kid growing up and pretending to be shooting somewhere...when the game was over, it kinda hurts knowing the home team ends on a loss."
I posted the following observations on the listserv that preceded this site after the game:
Reynolds is a great building, but like Soldier Field, most of the seats are "end zone seats." The floor seats behind the basket go back FOREVER.
Red seats as far as you can see. Building was like the Palestra in many ways, only if you built it as a rectangle instead of a square. Carmody was very kind in the post-game, saying he could not believe they were closing the building. However, I was surprised [amused?] that they did not sell programs of any sort at the gym and that my dad had to make one on the back of the one-sheet with player names that you could pick up at the door.
Princeton turnout was fantastic, including much of the women's lacrosse team and a reduced band. Our seats were behind the Princeton bench, and there was just a small space between one's head [if you are 6'3" like myself] and the bottom of the balcony above us. At one point I even scaped my fist against this "ceiling" while cheering.
As for the game, a great one. Lots of emotion on both sides. CJ Chapman had a new speed and purpose that he had only shown in spurts before his injury. He was fast and crisp out there, and helped in the Princeton comeback when they were down 17-10. Team came to life again when he came in for El-Nokali. Krug had some good rebounds, kept the ball alive a few times and did a nice job on defense when Rocca got in foul trouble. Krug did have one very bad turnover when a pass to the far corner went right through his hands. Really brought the NC State crowd alive. Brian Earl scored all his baskets on tough layups and short jumpers. No three pointers. He would not let Princeton lose. Had a bemused grin on his face after the five second call late in the second half. Then came back and silenced the crowd with his driving shot off the glass. His quotes on that shot in many of the linked articles today are pretty funny.
Lastly, the shot Earl hit to win the game was remarkable. As was the Princeton effort to save the ball and keep that crucial possession alive.
Great play by El-Nokali to keep the ball in bounds.
And that is everything important I can remember.
12 years down the line it is still one of the most memorable wins and biggest shots in the modern era of Princeton basketball.
A box score can be found here.