RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Zia Cooke scored 17 points and top-ranked South Carolina never trailed in its 66-57 win over No. 5 North Carolina State on Tuesday night, earning an impressive road win in a marquee season-opening matchup of Final Four contenders.
The Gamecocks scored the first six points and offered a composed response any time the Wolfpack tried to make a move. Cooke paced an offensive team effort that shot 49%, while preseason Associated Press All-American Aliyah Boston controlled the paint and helped shut down Elissa Cunane – N.C. State’s star and the preseason Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year.
Boston finished with eight points, six rebounds and five blocks for South Carolina.
Raina Perez and Jakia Brown-Turner were the only Wolfpack players to find any type of offensive rhythm, each finishing with 18 points. Cunane finished with eight points on 4-for-11 shooting with three rebounds despite failing to hit a basket until the third quarter — a major problem for an offense that relies on her as the interior presence surrounded by capable shooters.
N.C. State shot 41% overall, never managing to consistently string together enough stops or solid scoring possessions to catch South Carolina. Not even a loud home crowd back in Reynolds Coliseum again helped.
The Wolfpack got within a point three separate times in the third quarter, the last coming at 37-36 on Brown-Turner’s baseline drive. But South Carolina countered during that stretch with efficient offense, scoring on five straight possessions and seven of eight to end the third quarter.
The Gamecocks went on their finishing kick early in the fourth, with Cooke knocking down a transition 3-pointer near the South Carolina bench to push the margin to 51-41 with 7:57 left. Destanni Henderson (14 points) added a jumper with the shot clock winding down, then Boston scored inside against Cunane while being fouled for South Carolina’s largest lead at 55-41 with 4:51 to play.
N.C. State got no closer than eight points after that.
South Carolina: All 11 members of the Gamecocks’ Final Four team returned, and it added yet another stellar recruiting class under Dawn Staley, who recently received a seven-year, $22.4 million contract that makes her the sport’s highest-paid Black head coach and one of the highest overall. It increases the expectations on this perennial power, which was playing its highest-ranked season-opening opponent ever –- not to mention a team that had beat the Gamecocks on their homecourt last year.
N.C. State: The program led by Wes Moore entered the season with its highest expectations in recent memory with the return of the top eight scorers from a two-time ACC Tournament champion that went on to earn the program’s first No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But the Wolfpack never looked comfortable in this one en route to ending a 40-game home-court winning streak against nonconference foes.