RALEIGH, N.C. – N.C. State head coach Wes Moore pointed out that his team’s 63-51 win over the Duke Blue Devils wasn’t the prettiest of games.
He also called it “bittersweet” as leading scorer Grace Hunter left the game with a serious right knee injury with just over a minute to play.
Tying the school record for the best start to a season, the Wolfpack (14-0) had to work extremely hard to overpower and outlast a Blue Devils squad that put together a formidable game plan hoping to get a different result in the two teams’ first ACC game of the year.
“Gotta give Duke a lot of credit, mixin’ the defenses up,” Moore said.
“I’ve gotta do a better job of recognizing that and tryin’ to throw our kids in a better position; but we also had some people who didn’t shoot the ball quite as well as they normally do. We won because we rebounded – we really stressed that as the most important part of the game. Even on a night when you don’t shoot it that well, if you can limit them to one possession and not second and third looks, it makes a big difference.”
Hunter and Aislinn Konig led with 14 points apiece and along with identical 11-point finishes from Erika Cassell and Elissa Cunane, N.C. State secured its fifth win in its last six against Duke (8-5).
Putting together one of their better collective efforts at both ends of the court, Haley Gorecki and Mikayla Boykin kept the Blue Devils close with 19 and 13-point performances, respectively.
Both sides were deadlocked at 29 points apiece by halftime.
A back-and-forth shootout in the third period saw the Wolfpack surge ahead by 12, leading 43-31 with 2:29 to go.
Gorecki ended a five-minute Blue Devils scoring drought and single-handedly crafted what became a 10-0 run that was capped off by a Boykin jumper to cut N.C. State’s advantage to 43-41.
During the final 10 minutes, N.C. State finished the job and outrebounded and outscored Duke – it was as simple as that.
Fifteen of the Wolfpack’s 47 total rebounds were claimed during that time while doubling up their scoring on the Blue Devils who shot an abysmal 13 percent (2-16) from the field to end the game.
“Just a great basketball game – obviously hard-fought by both teams,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said.
“Proud of my team and our effort. We did so many good things in that game. Didn’t close out some things and make some good decisions at critical times, and the rebounding stats tell the story.”
With N.C. State ahead 50-46 with three minutes to go, critical Duke turnovers played into State’s favor.
Cunane then single-handedly helped put the game further out of reach in a 61-second span, scoring 7 points in row from the field and the free throw line.
Up 60-48, the Wolfpack and its home crowd of 2,971 loudly cheered on the finish to another victory until a thud on the floor and loud screams of pain replaced it all.
Going for a layup with 1:14 remaining, Hunter drove to the hoop alongside Boykin who contested the play.
The two made contact and Hunter went down hard and screaming as her right leg planted on the floor before giving way and resulted in her sliding head-first slide across the baseline.
Her cries of pain filled the air for five-plus minutes as all looked on while Moore and the Wolfpack training staff worked to calm her down and assess the injury.
After a full-length padded leg wrap was secured around her knee, Hunter was carried off to the locker room with training staff on either side of her.
— Peter Koutroumpis (@pksport) January 4, 2019
“I don’t know yet, but it doesn’t look good to be honest,” Moore said.
“Like I said, it’s very bittersweet. Disappointing.
“It was definitely a solemn locker room after the game. It’s hard to fully enjoy it, that’s for sure.”
Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport