Wolfpack comeback falls short as Hines-Allen, Durr help No. 3 Cardinals stay undefeated
By Peter Koutroumpis
RALEIGH, N.C. – It wasn’t the start that the N.C. State Wolfpack wanted when they hosted the third-ranked and undefeated Louisville Cardinals in front of its largest crowd this season at Reynolds Coliseum.
Forward Myisha Hines-Allen (17 points, 12 rebounds) and guard Asia Durr (17 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals) carried the load for the Cardinals (16-0, 2-0).
On the other side, Wolfpack forward/guard Kiara Leslie posted 18 points to go with guard Kayla Ealey’s 11 points and Chelsea Nelson’s eight points and 10 rebounds.
However, the most stunning stat in this Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) matchup that had all 2,865 in attendance scratching their heads was the 15-plus minute scoring drought that N.C. State endured to trail 26-1 with 5:26 remaining in the first half.
That’s right, the Wolfpack (12-3, 1-1) launched multiple handfuls of three-point attempts, running jumpers, and unsuccessful layups – 25 shot attempts in total.
Nothing dropped, absolutely nothing parlayed for the home side while the visitors didn’t look to be playing over-aggressively whatsoever.
“Rough start, obviously,” N.C. State head coach Wes Moore said.
“I don’t know if we were maybe a little intimidated, which I don’t completely understand. Last year, we split with them, and the last three games have had a margin of five points total. I felt like we could compete with them. You’ve got to give them credit. They came out and hit shots. They did a nice job defensively of playing personnel and match-ups, and we obviously struggled to hit some shots. Unfortunately, sometimes that can be contagious. A couple of people miss and everybody starts thinking about it too much.”
After the first quarter, Louisville led 15-1, shooting at a 39-percent clip.
The only point N.C. State claimed was Ealey’s first successful free throw of the game that followed an 0-for-15 dry run with nine 3-point attempts.
It wasn’t until the midpoint of the second period when Armani Hawkins dropped the Wolfpack’s first field goal of the game, a three that brought the crowd to its feet.
Trailing by 22 points, with a renewed energy and confidence, an 8-2 N.C State run to end the half cut the Cardinals’ lead to 28-12.
Though the Wolfpack lost the first half miserably, they outscored Louisville by a 35-27 margin to end the game.
Even while his team extended its overall record to a clean 16-0, a new program milestone, Louisville head coach Jeff Walz was happy with the effort early, but expected N.C. State to pull closer at some point.
“It wasn’t gonna stay that way,” Walz said.
“They’re too good a basketball team. I thought defensively, the first 13 or 14 minutes, we were as good as we’ve been of game-planning and doing what we had talked about. We made things difficult for them. I knew they were gonna make a run. Wes is a really good coach, he’s got really good players, and we knew that. I told our kids before we came on this trip, this is one of the games I’m most concerned about going on the road and playing. Because every year what I’m able to do after this basketball game, is just pull this film and show my players exactly what they have to work on in the offseason. They make you game-plan so well, they make you do what you don’t do well.”
Hines-Allen pointed out that all the Cardinals did was play ‘scout defense’ by getting a hand in Wolfpack shooters’ faces and sagging and doubling in the post to counter numerous offensive attacks.
Despite the forgettable start, credit to N.C. State for the resiliency it exhibited in suffering it third loss of the season, ending a recent six-game win streak.
“Just our energy – uplifting each other – it defensively kept us going.” Nelson said.
“We definitely were off in the first half,” Leslie added.
“But I think us getting defensive stops and still knowing that we’re still in the game helped us pick it up in the second half.”
Unfortunately for the Wolfpack, it end up being not enough early, and too much to overcome late in suffering a loss in league play.
“I am proud of the effort after digging such a big hole for them to come back,” Moore concluded.
“I think we cut it to four and had the ball, so we definitely had an opportunity at the end. I’m not into moral victories, but I’m proud of our team. They showed a lot of character. We just need to learn from it and get ready for the next one.”
N.C State’s abysmal shooting allowed the Cardinals to lead 26-4 with Durr and Hines-Allen leading the way.
Hawkins and Ealey led N.C. State with five points apiece despite shooting 4-of-31 (13%) from the field.
The game looked all but over if play continued in that manner.
A 26-1 lead until the 4:48 mark of the second quarter gave the Cardinals a big enough lead, despite eventually committing 16 turnovers, to hold off the Wolfpack.
Walz credited N.C. State with altering the intensity of the Cardinals’ pace of play.
“We just have to focus on defense, Coach Walz emphasized that a lot,” Hines-Allen said.
“This is a great team, so we knew it wasn’t going to be a big lead like we had in the first quarter throughout the whole game. It was just staying focused and doing what we had to do in order to win.”
Louisville got its offense working effortlessly and steadily put up 15 points from five different players – Durr, Hines-Allen, Arica Carter, Sam Fuehring, and Jazmine Jones.
N.C. State went 0-for-15 from the field, unable to drop anything from the field, including going 0-for-9 beyond the arc.
A lone free throw from Ealey put the Wolfpack on the board during the period, trailing 15-1.
N.C. State’s shooting woes continued as Louisville extended its lead to 26-1 with 5:26 to go in the half.
Hawkins dropping a three-pointer at the 4:48 mark, and the crowd’s energy ignited the Wolfpack, trailing 26-4 at that point.
Hines-Allen and Kylee Shook had fueled the Louisville offense up to that point with six and five points, respectively.
Coming out of a timeout, N.C. State drop two field goals – a two from Hawkins and a jumper from Nelson and trailed by 18.
Aislinn Konig’s block on Fuehring’s layup attempt eventually led to two free throws from Ealey.
Bionca Dunham put up a layup for Louisville which Ealey matched with a running jumper of her own that pulled the Wolfpack within 16, trailing 28-12 at halftime.
Durr continued to carry the Cardinals’ scoring load early in the period with 10 points – two 3s and two jumpers.
N.C. State started the period with three successful field goals.
Louisville’s lead was 38-18 at the five-minute mark.
Leslie led the Wolfpack from the field and the free throw line, and kept the home side’s shooting percentage on the rise.
Konig’s three-pointer from the top cut the Cardinals’ lead to 41-26 with 1:53 remaining.
A layup from Akela Maize extended N.C. State’s run to 12-0 to finish the period with Louisville leading 41-30 heading into the final period.
Both teams traded missed baskets and turnovers with intermittent conversions which allowed the Cardinals to continue to carry a double-digit lead, 45-35, with 6:51 remaining.
A steal and layup from Leslie pulled the Wolfpack to within eight points by the midpoint of the period.
Turnovers continued to plague Louisville’s offense which eventually translated into two layups from Nelson and Ealey to cut the deficit to four.
A blocked shot and steal off Konig allowed Hines-Allen to extend the Cardinals’ lead to 49-43 with 1:38 to play.
Leslie’s foul on Durr put her on the line to add two more.
A quick layup from Nelson then allowed Moore to call a timeout with 75 seconds to go with the Cardinals up 51-45.
However, successful work at the free throw line by Carter iced the game for Louisville and ended the Wolfpack’s valiant comeback attempt.
Peter Koutroumpis, 401-323-8960, @pksport