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Billikens rally from 14 down to knock off NC State in March Madness opener

Down by 14 points with only five minutes left to play, and trying to pull off a miracle comeback with guys injured, battered, and bruised, and also needing to do it while dealing with a team-wide month-long slump, the Saint Louis University men's basketball team found a way on Thursday, as it rallied to force overtime, then somehow outlasted North Carolina State in the extra session, for an 83-80 victory that will end the Wolfpack's season and send the Billikens to the third round of the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year.

SLU Billikens 2014 NCAA Tournament 1st Round.
Getty Images

Saint Louis, which came into the tournament as the No. 5 seed in the Midwest Region, despite having lost four of its previous five games, including a first round loss to St. Bonaventure in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament, trailed almost the entire game against 12th-seed N.C. State, but managed to pull off one of its greatest comebacks in program history, thanks to some faulty free throw shooting by the Wolfpack and some truly clutch, last-minute playmaking by the Billikens.

"We didn't want to end on that kind of note. We didn't want to bow out of the tournament this early," SLU senior Rob Loe said. "We're here to win, and we're here to put our mark on basketball."

And that's exactly what the Billikens did in rallying from a 59-45 deficit to tie the score at 70 at the end of regulation.

SLU instituted a strategic fouling plan that's being called the "Hack-a-Pack", which worked to perfection, as N.C. State missed 17 free throws in the game, including 12 in the final five minutes of regulation, while SLU, which had shot the ball poorly all night, finally found its touch, especially from long range, where Loe and fellow seniors

Dwayne Evans and Jake Barnett all hit clutch three's as the clock ticked down on the Billikens' season.

Evans' three made it 61-55 with 2:16 left, Loe hit his to make it 65-60 with 1:23 left, and Barnett splashed one home to make it 68-66 with only 48 seconds left.

Then after a couple more missed N.C. State free throws, Loe made a driving layup to pull the Billikens to within 69-68 with 35 seconds left.

N.C. State's T.J. Warren, who finished with a game-high 28 points, added a free throw, but also missed one as well to put the Wolfpack up 70-68 with 28 seconds left.

But SLU's Jordair Jett, the 2014 Atlantic 10 Conference Player of the Year, made a sensational sprawling layup and drew the foul to tie the score and give the Billikens a chance to take the lead.

The senior from St. Paul, Minn., missed the free throw, but N.C. State's Tyler Lewis missed a shot at the buzzer that could've won the game for the Wolfpack.

In overtime, Loe scored six of his team-high 22 points to lead the Billikens, while N.C. State appeared to run out of gas, after having played in an opening round game in Dayton, Ohio on Tuesday.

SLU (27-6) will now play defending national champion Louisville (30-5) on Saturday, with the winner advancing to the

Sweet 16 next weekend in Indianapolis.

Tip-off from the Orlando Arena in Orlando, Fla., on Saturday is slated for 1:45 p.m.

SCORING SUMMARY........ 1 ... 2 ... OT ... Final
North Carolina State ............ 30 .. 40 ... 10 ... 80
Saint Louis ............................ 26 .. 44 ... 13 ... 83

North Carolina State
T.J. Warren 28, Ralston Turner 16, Desmond Lee 13, Tyler Lewis 8, Anthony Barber 7, Jordan Vandenberg 3, Lennard Freeman 3, Kyle Washington 2.

Saint Louis
Rob Loe 22, Jordair Jett 18, Mike McCall Jr. 12, Dwayne Evans 11, John Manning 7, Jake Barnett 6, Tanner Lancona 3, Austin McBroom 2, Grandy Glaze 2.