GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Tenth-ranked North Carolina State hung in while missing nearly everything early, then hit enough shots late to grind out a tough win to start the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.
Elissa Cunane had 14 of her 16 points after halftime to help the Wolfpack beat Georgia Tech 57-48 in Friday’s quarterfinals, avenging a loss to the Yellow Jackets from less than two weeks earlier during a bumpy February stretch.
The second-seeded Wolfpack (26-4) lost 65-61 at home in the only regular-season meeting during a stretch that saw Wes Moore’s club lose three of four after peaking at No. 4 in the AP Top 25. But N.C. State is winning again, even after again having fits against the seventh-seeded Yellow Jackets (20-11).
“This league is tough, y’all,” Moore said. “We didn’t shoot it well the first six games in February. I mean, it wasn’t any secret. … So yeah, we went through a tough time, but we knew we’ve got some great shooters, they’re going to snap out of it.”
That applied to Friday’s game, too, with N.C. State going 3 for 19 and missing its first nine 3-pointers en route to trailing by 14 early in the second quarter.
“What we were talking about as a team was really that we’re better than what we’re playing right now,” said point guard Aislinn Konig, who had 16 points.
N.C. State responded by going on an 18-0 run spanning halftime to get back in it, and made 13 of 28 shots after halftime (46%) — a total aided by Cunane’s strong second-half showing, in particular.
The 6-foot-5 sophomore, averaging a team-best 16.5 points and 10 rebounds, shot 1 for 3 in the opening half while sitting significant stretches with two fouls. But she went 6 of 11 after the break, repeatedly getting deep post position on a night when the Wolfpack’s 3-point shooting remained off-target.
Kierra Fletcher had 15 points and nine rebounds for Georgia Tech, while Francesca Pan – who had a career-best 30 in the first meeting – also had 15 points with eight boards. The Yellow Jackets steadied themselves after the Wolfpack’s big run and tied it at 42 when Pan rattled in a shot in the lane with 5:49 left, but they couldn’t push in front.
“I thought we really fought hard to get that game tied back up again,” first-year Georgia Tech coach Nell Fortner said. “But we probably spent a lot of energy doing that.”
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets had reached the ACC quarterfinals for the first time since 2016 by beating Pittsburgh in Thursday’s second round. That set up another shot at the Wolfpack with a chance to bolster their NCAA Tournament resume as a potential bubble team. They led 21-7 early, but couldn’t hold onto another resume boost.
“I don’t know what the future holds,” Fortner said. “Excited to find out what that means in the next 10 days, but I thought this team has handled themselves very well, fought hard.”
N.C. State: The Wolfpack started the year 22-1 and had lone possession of first in the ACC before losing to Louisville before the 1-3 stretch. But N.C. State closed the regular season by beating Syracuse and Virginia, and now has avenged the Georgia Tech loss, to seemingly rebuild momentum.
CLOSING IT OUT
N.C. State had a couple of clinching late plays, starting when freshman Jakia Brown-Turner hit a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock for a 53-46 lead with 1:15 left.
“What a big shot, no doubt,” Moore said.
Konig followed by going 4 of 4 at the line in the final 50 seconds to seal it.
DEFENDING THE 3
N.C. State has been one of the nation’s best 3-point shooting teams to complement Cunane inside, ranking 17th in Division I for made 3s per game (8.5) and 24th in percentage (.362).
But Georgia Tech held the Wolfpack to 4-for-21 shooting from 3-point range after N.C. State hit a season-low three in the first meeting.
“That was a point of emphasis: ‘Hands up, make sure you close out with your hands up and don’t give them easy looks,’” Fortner said. “And, for the most part, I thought we did that all night long.”
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets must wait to find out their postseason fate.
N.C. State: The Wolfpack advanced to Saturday’s semifinals against sixth-seeded Boston College, which upset No. 3 seed Duke in Friday’s last quarterfinal.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap
More AP women’s basketball: https://apnews.com/Womenscollegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25