GREENSBORO – NC State women’s basketball coach Wes Moore likes to play zone defense about as much as the avid Dallas Cowboys fan likes to root for the Washington Redskins.
But faced with the prospect of watching a second-half lead in an ACC Tournament quarterfinal game against seventh-seeded Georgia Tech slowly dwindle away, Moore made the uncharacteristic switch – and maybe saved the No. 2-seeded Wolfpack’s hopes for its first tournament crown since 1991.
Tied at 42 with five minutes left, the Pack (26-4) outscored the pesky Yellow Jackets 15-6 as senior guard Ace Konig tallied six of her team-leading 16 points, junior Kai Crutchfield added four and freshman wing Jackia Brown-Turner hit her only three-point shot of the game with 1:15 to play, after Georgia Tech (20-11) had again pulled within four, to secure a 57-48 win.
“We probably hadn’t played five minutes of zone all year,” Moore said afterward, “but we felt like maybe we could get them out of their rhythm a little bit. So we decided to give ’em a different look, and our players did a great job. I was real pleased with the way we rebounded out of it because that’s your big concern (with playing zone).”
Much as they did after a one-week layoff prior to its loss to Louisville earlier this season, NC State came out in the first quarter Friday night looking like a team that hadn’t played in a month, instead of just four days. The Pack made just3 of 16 attempts, missing all eight of its three-point tries, and trailed by 14 points, 21-7, two minutes into the second quarter.
“I always think that the team that played the day before (Tech defeated No. 15 seed Pitt 68-58 in the round of 16 Thursday) has the advantage early in the game, and that was obvious today,” Moore said. “They looked a lot more comfortable and a lot more aggressive, but, obviously, if you haven’t played, you hope in the second half – or in this case, the second quarter – that you maybe can take advantage of a little bit of fatigue, or whatever.”
Konig, who was 0 for 3 the first 10 minutes, hit the first of two three-point shots with 7:04 left in the first half, followed a minute later by a short jumper by freshman post Camille Hobby. The back-to-back scores ignited a 16-2 NC State run that allowed the Pack to enter the locker room at the half tied at 23.
The 14-point comeback tied the largest deficit erased this season; the Pack also wiped out a 14-point deficit against Virginia Tech on Jan. 2.
Sophomore post Elissa Cunane, limited to just two points after playing just 11 minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, tallied 10 points the third period to help the Pack take as much as an eight-point lead.
“Coach came up to me and said you gotta demand the ball inside, and they were double-teaming,” Cunane said,. “But we started knocking down shots, so that opened up the double team more, and I was able to score inside.”
But Tech junior guard Kierra Fletcher answered with 10 of her own, and senior guard Francesca Pan brought the ‘Jackets even again at 42 with two of her 15 total points before Moore’s reluctant defensive switch allowed the Pack to pull away.
Pan, who torched NC State with a career-high 30-point performance in the Pack’s 65-61 loss on Feb. 16, was help to half that, tying Fletcher for scoring honors for Tech. “We were trying to focus more on her,” Konig said. “She has the potential to go off, and has been playing well all tournament (scoring 26 in the win over Pitt), so we were trying to force other people to hit shots and helping off of players.”
The senior also felt the team wasn’t really lacking confidence after its first-quarter shooting woes.
“Shots just weren’t falling,” she said. “We were still taking good shots, and we were moving the ball around and attacking. I think it was more (lack of) patience. That was the moment (when she hit her first three) where we start to see shots go in and then it starts to click, and that allows us to get into a rhythm.”
Konig and Cunane tied for scoring honors for the Pack with 16 apiece, while Brown-Turner finished with seven and Crutchfield six. Junior forward Kayla Jones was held to just two points but snared a team-high 10 of the Pack’s 33 rebounds.
Friday’s win was expected to be the first of three “payback” opportunities Pack players were anticipating against the three teams – Georgia Tech, Duke and Louisville — that had handed NC State its trio of home losses in February. But sixth-seeded Boston College spoiled that scenario in Friday’s final quarterfinals game, upsetting the third-seeded Blue Devils 84-77.
The Eagles (20-11) shot 54 percent for the game, including 60 percent (9 of 15) from the arc, and put four players in double figures, led by ACC All-Freshman team selection Taylor Soule’s 26.
NC State opened ACC play on Dec. 29 with a 72-54 win at BC, holding the Eagles to 35-percent shooting (23 of 66) from the floor and 26 percent (6 of 23) from long range. The Pack led 26-11 after the first quarter and never let BC get closer than five points the rest of the way.
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