RALEIGH, N.C. – The 13th-ranked N.C. State Wolfpack remained undefeated and added an ACC/Big Ten Challenge win to its resume at Reynolds Coliseum on Thursday.
Guard Grace Hunter’s 19 points led all scorers as the Wolfpack (7-0) overcame an early deficit and handed the Michigan Wolverines (5-2) a 66-55 loss in front of a crowd of 2,782 in attendance.
Nicole Munger led the Wolverines with 18 points, including four 3-pointers, a finish supported by a 14-point effort from Deja Church.
Adding eight boards and four steals, Hunter went a perfect 11-of-11 from the free throw line and kept N.C. State’s offense churning while Munger’s hot hand beyond the arc helped put Michigan ahead 32-29 by halftime.
“We knew it was gonna be a challenge – first half they really shot the ball well,” Wolfpack coach Wes Moore said.
“They did a great job defensively on us. We were a little frustrated.”
While the Wolverines shot 44 percent from the perimeter for the game, the Wolfpack struggled from the distance all game, dropping only three 3s on 21 attempts.
Instead, State had to rely on defense and aggressive transition play, a combination that resulted in 24 points off turnovers, particularly during the final two periods.
The Wolfpack effectively shut down the Wolverine offense – from 50-percent output to 33 percent.
Kiara Leslie’s work at slashing into the paint from the wing eventually resulted in a 15-point, eight-rebound finish and helped State compile a 43-percent shooting performance (6-of-14) in the third.
Elissa Cunane’s 13 points and four rebounds in the post included significant contributions that cracked the Michigan defense open late in the period.
“We saw in film that they relied on help-side (defense) a lot, so that’s how we knew we could drive a lot and kick out,” Hunter said.
Five straight points from the six-foot-five-inch freshman center put the Wolfpack ahead 48-44.
Both teams traded missed shots and rebounds early in the fourth before Leslie and Cunane helped push the lead to 11 points, N.C. State’s largest margin of the game, sitting on a 56-45 advantage with 6:25 remaining.
The Wolfpack shut down Munger and held her to four points in the second half on the efforts of Aislynn Konig (6 points, 6 asssits), along with Hunter and Leslie.
Though Church’s second 3-pointer in as many attempts ignited a small spark for the Wolverines who cut the Wolfpack lead to five points two minutes later, that’s as close as Michigan got.
“Coach Moore was telling us to contain her (Munger),” Hunter said.
“Start guarding her shot and also help Elissa (Cunane) with the post – more focus on it.”
Hunter’s flawless work from the free throw line, coupled with Leslie’s and Cunane’s work inside, eventually vaulted the score back up to the double-digit final difference.
“We kept preachin’ there’s gonna be a night when we don’t shoot well,” Moore said.
“We’re gonna have to defend and we’re gonna have to rebound. Really proud of the defensive effort in the second half to hold ‘em to 23 points. Hopefully, that’s somethin’ that will carry over, we’ll gain some momentum from that.”
Peter Koutroumpis – 401-323-8960, @pksport