RALEIGH, N.C. – Even a day before classes resumed, it couldn’t have been a better time for the NC State Wolfpack women’s basketball team to test themselves as they opened Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) play with a 67-61 win over the 20th-ranked Syracuse Orange at Reynolds Coliseum on Sunday.
All things considered, they passed with flying colors as forward Kody Burke led the Wolfpack offense with a game-high 19 points while center Markeisha Gatling’s double-double (14 points, 15 rebounds) performance, coupled with strong efforts from guard Miah Spencer (12 points) and forward Krystal Barrett (10 points, 3 assists, 2 steals) was enough to edge out their new conference opponent.
“I just couldn’t be prouder of these kids,” NC State head coach Wes Moore said.
“It would have been so easy when you fall down by 10 points there late – it would have been really for them especially after the start a year ago in the conference – they could have very easily said it’s not our day and chalked it up. They just kept battlin’. I couldn’t be prouder of ‘em.”
Winning the tip and scoring the game’s first points, the Wolfpack looked to get up on their opponents early with the 3,485 in attendance behind them.
While NC State worked the ball inside to Gatling and Burke, Syracuse’s offense countered and relied on its perimeter shooting to keep them close throughout the game.
LaShay Taft (12 points) connected in the first half and Brianna Butler (17 points) made her shots count in the second, as they each dropped three bombs apiece from beyond the arc to put Syracuse ahead at critical points in the game.
Defensively, the Orange were aware of Gatling and Burke’s ability to score inside, and forced the Wolfpack to rely on its outside shooting early as well.
NC State did so successfully and built up a 19-12 lead during the first seven minutes of play.
As Syracuse’s hands stayed hot in converting three-point attempts, NC State started to struggle from the field while still keeping a slight lead over the Orange throughout the majority of the first half.
Turnovers by both teams kept the score close near the end of the half, and they each turned to earning their points from the free throw line.
As the Wolfpack’s inconsistent finishes from the field continued, back-to-back three’s from Taft put Syracuse ahead 36-32 at the end of the first half.
The second half continued to present problems for the Wolfpack as it missed on four consecutive shot attempts while Syracuse’s Rachel Coffey extended the lead to 39-32.
Barrett hit NC State’s first basket of the half from beyond the arc, but he play was quickly followed by point guard Len’Nique Brown (2 points, 3 assists) getting called for her fourth foul of the game with 17:27 remaining.
As a result, Spencer had to shoulder a lot of the load controlling the offense for the remainder of the game and she didn’t disappoint in doing so.
Syracuse took advantage of the Wolfpack’s inability to score and rebound effectively and quickly built up a 10-point lead, 45-35, until back-to-back three’s from Spencer and Burke brought NC State back to within a point, 47-46, with 11:05 to play.
However, as much as they started to build their momentum back up on offense, NC State allowed the Orange too many second-chance points and Syracuse pushed the lead back up again as the result of an 8-0 run just two minutes later.
After the under-eight media timeout, Moore inserted two-guard Ashley Williams into the game and her pass-first playmaking confused the Syracuse defense as it assumed she would shoot first every time she got her hands on the ball.
As a result, the Wolfpack proceeded to go on their own 8-0 run to come within a point, trailing 55-54 with just over six minutes to play.
“I’ve just gotta’ give NC State a ton of credit,” Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman said.
“They did a great job battling and staying in the game when we had a lead and they made every run they needed to make to win the basketball game.”
As the crowd was energized by NC State’s resurgence, two consecutive offensive fouls by the Orange allowed the Wolfpack to keep its run going.
With the Orange’s top player Brittany Sykes (9 points) called for her fourth foul and coupled with a subsequent offensive push called, NC State’s Williams proceeded to dish the ball up to Gatling who put NC State ahead 56-55 with 5:11 to play.
Continuing to battle, Syracuse retook the lead with a 3-pointer from Butler, but Burke quickly answered back with a scoring drive to the hoop and a successful follow-up free throw that give NC State its one-point lead back.
As Butler hit another three, Spencer was fouled and hit one of two shots as Syracuse held onto to a 61-60 lead with 1:30 to play.
After the Orange missed on their possession, Spencer drove the court and scored on the layup to give the Wolfpack a 62-61 lead with 54.4 seconds to play.
Butler missed another shot and Gatling rebounded it and the ball eventually got up to Spencer who was fouled again.
“Miah Spencer grew up a little bit there in the second half,” Moore said.
“At halftime I was really disappointed with her not really taking the strength away from individuals. She did a great job in the second half when ‘Nique was in foul trouble.”
Spencer split one of two shots again – making the first and missing on the second.
With the Wolfpack leading 63-61, both teams battled for the ball and it was Brown who eventually rebounded Spencer’s miss and was fouled with 22.2 seconds to play.
After Brown scored on both of her free throws, guard Myisha Goodwin-Coleman (8 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) caused a turnover on Syracuse’s inbounds possession, and gave NC State the ball back with 4.6 seconds.
The senior guard was fouled on the play and eventually proceeded to drop both free throws to finalize the score at 67-61 and to give the Wolfpack its first conference win of the season.
“It’s a great feeling,” Burke said.
“Like coach Moore said, it’s 2014, our record’s 0-0. To start off with a win couldn’t be any better.”