GREENSBORO – It’s been 30 years since an Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) championship banner was last raised in Reynolds Coliseum.
That wait is now on the brink of coming to an end.
For only the third time since 1991 – and the first time in the last 10 years – NC State’s women’s basketball team will be playing Sunday for the conference tournament title, courtesy of the Wolfpack’s 82-75 victory over Boston College in Saturday’s semifinals.
The win, the first in the ACC semifinal round in Wes Moore’s seven years as Pack coach, sends the No. 2 seeded Pack (27-4) into a 12 noon rematch with Florida State (24-7), after the fourth-seeded Seminoles shocked top-seed and regular-season champ Louisville 62-60 in Saturday’s other semi contest. It was FSU’s second upset of the Cards this season, after handing them their first conference loss, 66-59, on Jan. 6.
NC State beat the then 13th-ranked Seminoles 68-51 in Raleigh on Jan. 16.
Sunday’s game will mark the first time since 1990 that the Pack will play as the highest seeded team in the championship game. NC State won in 1991 as the No. 3 seed, beating fourth-seeded Clemson (84-61), and lost in 2007 as the No. 4 seed to second seed North Carolina, (60-54), and in 2010 to No. 1 seed Duke (70-60) after starting the tournament as the No. 6 seed.
While certainly aware of the historical importance of Sunday’s contest, the Pack coach was characteristically matter-of-fact in his approach to it.
“I’m really not that excited about that (NC State’s first ACC title appearance since 2010),” he admitted. “What I would like to do is obviously try to finish it (the tournament run) off. It’s going to be really tough. Florida State has had a great year, and they’re playing well down the stretch (actually just 4-3 in their last seven games, including the tournament wins over Louisville and Syracuse).
“This isn’t the time to sit back and evaluate your accomplishments. I told the team in the locker room afterwards, let’s don’t spend a lot of time thinking about all the outside stuff – let’s focus on the scout, the film, the preparation, like we’ve done all year and get ready to play one more game.”
Pack senior guard Ace Konig, who’s played in two previous semifinals losses, did acknowledge that the players are aware of the potential reward.
“We’ve kind of come up short the last two years, and it’s exciting to be able to be in this position to really capitalize off of our capabilities as a team, and the potential we have for the rest of the postseason.”
And Moore, after warning about having Sunday’s “outside stuff” hurt his squad’s focus, did acknowledge that ending a nearly three-decade drought would be huge.
“I would love nothing better than for these players, but also our fans, to be able to enjoy a championship,” he said. “Like I said, we’ve got work to do, and we’ve got to focus on the game itself – but yeah, we understand (its importance).”
In the January win over FSU, NC State was able to limit the second-best shooting team n the conference (44 percent) to a 21-for-58 night (36 percent), and outrebounded the ’Noles 38-34, outscoring them in all but the fourth quarter. Four players notched double figures, led by sophomore center Elissa Cunane’s 20 points and team-high 10 boards.
Cunane will need a similar effort Sunday after struggling somewhat in the Pack’s two tournament outings so far. The all-conference first team selection rebounded from a slow start in Friday’s 57-48 quarterfinal win over Georgia Tech with 14 of her 16 points in the final 20 minutes, and tallied 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting Saturday against Boston College. But Eagles senior center Emma Guy dominated the Pack post in the first quarter, outmuscling Cunane for four straight layups and short jumpers inside en route to 10 of BC’s 16 points in the period.
Trailing 11-4, Moore inserted freshman Jada Boyd for Cunane. The 6-2 wing hadn’t played more than six minutes in NC State’s two previous games and hadn’t scored since tallying six points in the win over Syracuse on Feb. 27.
But Boyd’s quickness proved the perfect defense for Guy, who managed just one more point the remainder of the half – and finished with 19 for the game. Boyd,
hitting four of five shots, helped spark a 25-6 run that put the Pack up 48-30 at halftime – the 48 points marking the most scored in a first half this season.
The Virginia native finished with 16 points (on 70 percent shooting, 7 of 10), her season high against an ACC opponent and just two shy of her career high 18 set in NC State’s season opener against North Carolina A&T. She also hauled down a team-leading eight rebounds to help the Pack to a 35-30 advantage on the boards.
“It gave us a big lift at both ends of the court,” Moore agreed. “She did a great job on Guy there in the second quarter, and got in front of her some, and made it tough for her to get the ball. And offensively, she knocked down seven of 10 shots, so that gave us a lift there, also.”
“It was just a matter of going out and getting it done,” Boyd said when asked about being ready to play such a major role.
The Pack led by as many as 22 the final half before a late Eagles press and a flurry of three-point makes against a mostly reserve Pack lineup reduced the final margin to seven. NC State actually outscored the Eagles (who’s upset No. 3 seed Duke the night before with an avalanche of treys) 30-24 from the arc, with Konig making four –her most since the Pack’s three-point explosion at Virginia – on the way to tying Boyd for scoring honors, netting 16 for the second straight game. Cunane netted all 11 of her points in just 16 minutes before picking up her third foul just a minute and a half into the third quarter and sitting out the remainder of the contest – partly to stay fresh for Florida State and because Boyd and the rest of the lineup was able to keep the Eagles to a double-digit deficit.
Comparing FSU’s loss at NC State and the win Saturday against Louisville shows some interesting similarities.
In the win in January, NC State was able to outscore the Seminoles 18-10 the first period – FSU outscored the Cards by the identical margin. NC State owned a 40-24 advantage in points in the paint; FSU topped the Cards 26-22 in inside scoring.
Through two tournament games, the Seminoles are shooting 46.2 percent to NC State’s 42.6. The Pack is averaging 19 points a game off turnovers to FSU’s 14.5 – both had just eight in the Pack’s win in January. Through the two tourney contests, the Pack has just one more miscue than the Seminoles (25-24).
NC State will be aiming for its fifth ACC Tournament crown since the event began in 1978, in its 15th overall appearance in the finals. Florida State will be making only its second appearance in the title game after losing to Notre Dame, 71-58, in 2015.
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