By Peter Koutroumpis
RALEIGH, N.C. – The 21st-ranked N.C. State Wolfpack earned a trip to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen on Sunday.
Fueled by a double-double performance from Kiara Leslie, the Wolfpack put together a 74-60 win over the No. 16 and fifth-seeded Maryland Terrapins (26-8) in the second round of play in the 2018 Women’s Basketball Championship at Reynolds Coliseum.
Playing with the tag of being underrated before the season began, N.C. State (26-8) is now headed to where it hasn’t been since 2007.
Leslie’s 21 points and 11 rebounds fueled an offense that was supported by double-digit finishes from four others, including Aislinn Konig (12 points), Kaila Ealey (12), Akela Maize (11), and Chelsea Nelson (10).
Defensively, strong rebounding from Nelson and Maize, each with seven boards, helped to contain the Maryland offense as senior guard and three-point specialist Kristen Confrey was held scoreless while leading scorer Kaila Charles posted just four points in 23 minutes of play, and racked up five fouls.
Coming off the bench, Brianna Fraser led the Terps with 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting, while 15 points from Ieshia Small and 14 from Stephanie Jones added to the effort.
“I thought N.C. State earned this win and were the better team today,” Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said.
“I thought their defensive intensity, their defensive pressure really made us struggle.”
The Wolfpack managed to string together key scoring runs when the Terps pulled closer early in the third, particularly capitalizing off turnovers (10 points) and on the fast break (10 points).
Holding Maryland to 3-of-15 shooting during the first quarter was critical to carrying a 32-26 lead at halftime.
The Wolfpack’s 62-percent shooting in the third, including 4-of-5 beyond the arc, provided an additional 10-point separation that eventually proved too much for the Terps to make up.
Winning the program’s 13th straight NCAA Tournament game in Raleigh dating back to 1983, this Wolfpack team reached a pinnacle that may have seemed too lofty for some to believe was possible.
Reaching the Sweet Sixteen for the first time as a head coach, an emotional N.C. State head coach Wes Moore praised his team’s effort.
“All year long, this group has battled,” Moore said.
“They were picked to finish 10th in the ACC, and now they’re in the Sweet Sixteen. That’s saying a lot, and I’m really proud of them.”
N.C. State led 32-26 led by 11 points and seven rebounds from Leslie and eight points from Maize.
Small posted seven points and four rebounds for Maryland.
With Maryland pulling to within three points early in the third quarter, Leslie showcased her defensive and offensive skills racking up steals (3) and converting them into points.
After Fraser was given a technical foul, two successful free throws from Leslie put N.C. State ahead by nine, leading 47-38.
N.C. State led 9-6 at the 6:08 mark followed by a layup and a three from Ealey.
A 3-pointer from Leslie pushed the Wolfpack advantage to six points a minute later.
A four-plus minute scoring drought kept the Terps chasing the Wolfpack, leading 16-7 with under two minutes to go.
The Wolfpack lead stood at 18-11 following a jumper that was eventually followed by two free throws from Small.
After converting 3-of-15 from the field, a quick layup from Small looked to restart the Maryland offense, but turnovers allowed the Wolfpack to put together a 6-2 run before Frese called a timeout at the 8:40 mark.
N.C. State’s post defense led by Maize and Nelson continued to deny easy rebound pickups for the Terps.
When it did pick up rebounds, Maryland continued to struggle from the field.
Instead, the Terps relied on points from the free throw line.
A bank off the glass from Fraser and a layup from Jones pulled the Terps within five, trailing the Wolfpack 24-19 with five minutes remaining.
Turnovers and missed shots allowed Maryland to cut further into the N.C. State lead.
A layup from Fraser made it a 26-23 game with 3:37 to go.
Successful free throw sequences from Maize and Leslie kept the Wolfpack ahead.
But strong offensive rebounding and drives to the hoop kept Maryland’s momentum building.
Konig’s first points with two minutes to go pushed the N.C. State lead to 32-26.
Both teams struggled from the floor to end the half with the Wolfpack holding onto its six-point lead.
A long two from Charles pulled the Terps to within three early.
The Wolfpack lead was 35-32 at the 7:15 mark.
Leslie took over for the Wolfpack.
A steal and a layup followed by a spot-up jumper had State ahead 41-36 with four minutes remaining.
After dropping a layup to pull Maryland within seven, trailing 45-38, Fraser was called for an unsportsmanlike technical foul.
Leslie dropped both free throws.
With two minutes remaining, back-to-back 3s from Konig and Kai Crutchfield gave the Wolfpack its largest lead, 53-38, with 1:11 to go.
N.C. State carried a 56-40 lead into the final period thanks to another three from Crutchfield.
N.C. State took advantage of numerous Maryland turnovers and missed shots early.
A three from Konig and a steal and layup from Nelson had the Pack up 59-44 with seven minutes remaining.
Baskets from Jones attempted to cut the deficit for the Terps, but not by much.
Fraser didn’t give up and earned an and-1 as part of a 9-1 run.
N.C. State led 62-51 with 4:58 to go.
The Wolfpack used the clock fully during each remaining possession they had and managed to keep scoring.
Following Ealey’s layup, the difference stood at 15 points with three minutes remaining.
Though continuing to foul N.C. State to get the ball back, the effort didn’t help to come any closer for Maryland to mount any type of comeback.
Peter Koutroumpis, 401-323-8960, @pksport