Call it a timeless loss for USF basketball.
A clock error in the closing seconds helped N.C. State pull off a wild 58-57 win over the Bulls, a cruel finish Tuesday night in the opening round of the NIT before a crowd of 3,582 at the Sun Dome.
Playing in the postseason for the first time in eight years, the Bulls (20-13) had taken a 57-56 lead on a Dominique Jones shot with 40 seconds left, and N.C. State had the ball under its basket with 11.2 remaining and six on the shot clock.
The inbounds pass sailed high into the backcourt, but freshman Scott Wood — scoreless on the night — tracked the ball down. As he moved upcourt and started to heave a halfcourt shot, he noticed the shot clock was still frozen at six seconds and passed to Richard Howell, who was open under the basket and banked in the go-ahead shot.
Officials reviewed the play and gave USF eight seconds, but Jones passed up a shot and Augustus Gilchrist's last-second attempt was blocked by Howell.
"It's a real hard way to lose, but we don't have anybody to blame but ourselves," coach Stan Heath said. "We had a lot of miscues out there. The last 30 seconds were not how I thought things would go.
"I'm really proud of this group. They came a long way. We did a lot of things that hadn't been done before."
Heath had noticed the shot clock hadn't started and yelled to officials, and he later asked them to reset the game to the inbounds play, to no avail.
"They should have stopped the game," Heath said. "They should have took it out again. It never started. I thought those guys carried those (clocks) to be the ones in charge of the clock, especially at a late time like that. I don't know.
"I really can't figure it out. I said, 'We should take it out again.' He couldn't do it. I don't know what the ruling is on that. The problem was they didn't know it happened soon enough."
N.C. State (20-15), which advances to play at UAB in the second round, got a career-best 25 points from senior Dennis Horner. USF got 24 from Jones, who missed three free throws in the final three minutes.
Jones may have played his final game with the Bulls. The junior, a first-team All-Big East selection this season, is considering leaving for the NBA draft, and when asked if he'd made a decision to come back for another year, his response was, "No comment."
The Wolfpack, which has won six of its past eight games, was proud that Wood had the patience to pass the ball instead of just taking a desperation shot as most might do.
"Just to have the presence of mind to actually see Richard down there and not just heave a shot, thinking the clock was running down, it was a great effort, a great play all around," coach Sidney Lowe said.
For Heath, the loss wasn't just on the final play but on missed opportunities throughout the game.
"We had the game in hand. There's no doubt in my mind," he said. "Give the kid Horner a lot of credit, but at the end of the day, this was a game we should have had. … I'd rather go down with a missed shot."