RALEIGH, N.C. -- North Carolina State put itself in a position to earn a tough home win only to bumble its way to the horn.
It wasn't the way coach Mark Gottfried wanted to see his team finish, even though the Wolfpack stayed unbeaten.
Trevor Lacey scored 21 points to help North Carolina State hold off South Florida 68-65 on Sunday, earning the program's first 4-0 start under Gottfried.
But the Wolfpack (4-0) blew most of an 11-point lead in the final 3 minutes, missing free throws and committing turnovers that ultimately helped the Bulls (3-1) get one final shot to force overtime.
"My first thought is we're always happy to win, but I think we need to play a lot better than we did today," Gottfried said, "especially down the stretch."
N.C. State went 3-for-8 from the foul line in the final 75 seconds, didn't manage a field goal in the final 4 minutes and had a couple of late turnovers against pressure.
N.C. State appeared to have the game in hand after Des Lee's two free throws made it 65-54 with 2:57 left. But the Bulls clawed back in it and got within 67-65 on Corey Allen Jr.'s layup with 3.8 seconds left.
Lee hit 1 of 2 free throws with 2.6 seconds to go to push the margin back to three. The Bulls had one more chance but Allen's heave for the tie from a step or two inside half court clanged off the rim as the horn sounded.
Before Sunday, N.C. State's closest win had been 12 points.
"We needed that," Lacey said of the tough finish. "We haven't had a close call like that this year. ... We have to be better at executing toward the end and finishing and making free throws."
Anthony "Cat" Barber finished with 10 points for the Wolfpack but missed three free throws late, while Kyle Washington scored all eight of his points during a critical second-half stretch in which N.C. State pushed ahead by 10.
Ralston Turner added nine points but went 1-for-6 from behind the arc.
Allen finished with 14 points to lead South Florida, which trailed 33-29 at halftime but shot 54 percent in the second half to keep the pressure on.
"I'm very proud of our fight and our resilience," first-year USF coach Orlando Antigua said. "There's a bunch of things that obviously we can correct. ... We're seeing improvement. That's what we want to try and we preach to them: try to get better every day a little bit, and we're doing that."
South Florida: The Bulls were going for their second straight 4-0 start. South Florida lost guard Troy Holston Jr. to an apparent left ankle injury late in the first half. He was on the bench after halftime with the aid of crutches and a walking boot. Antigua had no update on his status afterward. Nehemias Morillo had 11 points and seven rebounds.
N.C. State: BeeJay Anya, who set a school record with 10 blocks in Thursday's win against Jacksonville, had five to go with eight points and nine rebounds. Lennard Freeman had his third straight double-figure rebounding game with 10.
N.C. State finished with a 40-33 rebounding advantage and turned that into 15 second-chance points. Lacey chipped in seven from the backcourt.
South Florida had averaged 20 turnovers in the first three games, including 24 in the last outing against UAB. But the Bulls finished with just 10 against the Wolfpack, their lowest total of the young season.
South Florida returns home to play Hofstra on Tuesday.
N.C. State hosts Richmond on Wednesday.
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