RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Elissa Cunane rebounded from a first half that was completely out of character.
Cunane scored 25 of her 28 points after halftime and led No. 9 N.C. State to a 76-69 win over Virginia Tech on Thursday night.
Cunane, a 6-foot-5 sophomore center who was averaging 15.9 points and 10.6 rebounds entering the game, scored her lone points of the first half on a 3-pointer. But after she shot 1 for 4 from the field in the first half, her teammates attempted to lift her spirits.
“They were like, ‘The ball is going to go in the hoop. Just keep taking it to them,’” Cunane said.
She did that in the second half, scoring seven straight points in the final 3 minutes to turn a three-point deficit into a 71-67 lead as the Wolfpack (13-0, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) bounced back after trailing by 14 points in the second quarter.
Cunane’s scoring and her nine rebounds helped N.C. State survive a brilliant effort by Virginia Tech guard Aisha Sheppard, who tied the school record with eight 3-pointers and finished with 28 points. Sheppard shot 8-for-15 from 3-point range in a performance N.C. State coach Wes Moore called “incredible.”
“There were times when I thought we did a good job (defending her),” Moore said. “Got a hand up, if we get any closer it would be a foul. And she still hit them.”
Taja Cole added 13 points and Elizabeth Kitley scored 11 for Virginia Tech (10-3, 0-2).
Aislinn Konig scored eight of her 18 points in the fourth quarter for the Wolfpack. Kai Crutchfield added 12 points and Kayla Jones scored 11.
Virginia Tech led by three with 3 minutes left when Cunane scored in the lane and drew the fifth foul on Kitley. Cunane completed the three-point play, then made two free throws and a left-handed hook shot on N.C. State’s next two possessions for a four-point lead.
“We know that if we give it to her, she’ll do good things with it,” Konig said.
Moore said the Wolfpack is attempting to make opponents “pick their poison” with Cunane in the lane and four players capable of making 3-pointers on the perimeter. Cunane is good enough to consistently score 1-on-1 against many opposing centers.
But double-teaming her is a dangerous option for defenses, too, because her teammates shot 8 for 21 from 3-point range. Virginia Tech managed to lead for much of the game despite that combination, largely because Sheppard matched the Wolfpack shot-for-shot before Cunane and N.C. State finally prevailed.
“Obviously they made a couple of adjustments and Cunane got loose too much and we didn’t really stop that,” Virginia Tech coach Kenny Brooks said. “But I thought our kids gave great effort. But we don’t take pride in playing close. I think this team’s good enough that we can win a lot of ACC games this year.”
Virginia Tech: After losing by 24 at No. 8 Florida State on Sunday, the Hokies bounced back even though they couldn’t secure a win in their second straight road game against a top-10 opponent. Sheppard in particular demonstrated that she is capable of making difficult shots against anyone.
N.C. State: The Wolfpack had dominated on the boards and in the paint all season but struggled early against a Virginia Tech team that was determined to be the aggressor. Cunane and Konig were just good enough for N.C. State to pull out the win.
N.C. State had 15 assists in the second half after assisting on just four baskets before halftime as outstanding passing was a key to their offense. Jones led the Wolfpack with six assists, and Cunane, Konig and reserve guard Kaila Ealey added three apiece.
Sheppard, a junior, added to her reputation as one of the best 3-point shooters in Virginia Tech history. She set the school freshman record with 76 3-pointers, and ranks fourth in school history with 175 3-pointers in her career. … Jones grabbed 11 rebounds to go with her 11 points for the Wolfpack. … Virginia Tech did not attempt a free throw in the first half and finished 4-for-5 from the foul line. N.C. State made 13 of 17 free throws.
Virginia Tech: Returns home to meet North Carolina on Sunday.
N.C. State: Hosts Virginia on Sunday.
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