by Mike Potter
REYNOLDS COLISEUM/RALEIGH N.C. State can reach a milestone the experts thought might not happen this season, and if it happens it will come way early.
First-year Wolfpack coach Wes Moore has exceeded all expectations in his first season at the helm, as State (19-3, 6-2 ACC) is ranked No. 14 in the country heading into tonight’s contest with ancient rival Wake Forest (12-10, 3-6). State, which had been picked 10th in the conference, has its highest ranking since the 2001 season.
The Deacons are playing well with three wins in their last five games, including a 24-point romp over No. 23 Florida State on Sunday. The Wolfpack won the first meeting 62-54 on Jan. 12 in Winston-Salem. Wake has freshman guard Mykia Jones, who played on the state 4A champions for Millbrook last season.
It’s a close game almost from start to finish, with the Wolfpack holding on for a 74-67 victory.
It’s tied 33-all at halftime.
Wake shoots 48.1 percent over the period to the Wolfpack’s 42.4, while the rebounds are tied at 17 apiece. State has committed four turnovers to the Deacons’ six.
Myisha Goodwin-Coleman, who scores her 1,000th career point on a short jumper at the 4:42 mark, leads the Wolfpack with 13 points to 12 for Markeisha Gatling, who scores State’s first eight points.
Dearica Hamby’s 11 points lead the Deacons at the break.
State’s biggest lead is 13-8 on a Miah Spencer layup at 10:50, while Wake is up six at 28-22 on a pair of Jones free throws at 4:58.
The Wolfpack stretches its margin to nine points three times in the second half, the last at 72-63 on a huge Kody Burke jumper with 2:18 remaining.
The Deacons get a chance to tie on Chelsea Douglas’ 3-point try with 11 seconds left, but the shot went awry and Burke rebounded, hitting a pair of free throws with four seconds left to clinch.
It’s the Wolfpack’s first 20-win season since 09-10 when State went 20-14 and earned its most recent NCAA bid.
Gatling finishes with 19 points, followed by 16 from Goodwin-Coleman. Burke finishes with 14 points and 11 rebounds, while Len’Nique Brown gets 14 points all in the second half.
Douglas leads Wake with 17 points followed by Hamby with 15 and Calicott 13.
State shoots 45.2 percent to the Deacons’ 40.4, wins the rebound battle 41-31 and commits nine turnovers to Wake’s seven.
They said it …
Moore: “Boy, what a grind, huh? Give Wake Forest a lot of credit. They make it tough on your guards to run stuff and make entry passes. They do a nice job of collapsing and helping on the low post. But at their place it was even more of a grind. We did some good things. Getting four people in double figures with Kody having a double-double, Myisha having some big ‘3s’ and Len’Nique really taking over the game down the stretch was big. And Keisha was Keisha. It was a good team win and we’ll take it and move on.”
Wake coach Jen Hoover: “We worked hard and we played tough, not necessarily as smart at times. We’re a much younger team than they are and it showed. But I’m proud of our heart and determination. Gatling is big, athletic, agile and has great, great hands. She demands a lot of attention. And when you can surround her with four kids that can all shoot the ball it makes them hard to defend.”
Goodwin-Coleman: “They switched their defense up between man and zone. Most of my ‘3s’ were when they were in zone, or when their weak side was helping big on Keisha. The top of the key was wide open.”
Burke: “Give Wake Forest credit. They’re a good team. Their record doesn’t do them justice. I thought we outsmarted them. When they put pressure on certain people it left others open and that’s when we started hitting.”
What does it all mean?
That State is at 20 wins and has ostensibly clinched an NCAA spot about a half-dozen games ahead of schedule.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Gatling’s layup from Burke to make it 53-45 with 10:48 to go.
State: Won 4.
Wake: Lost 1.
State leads 64-12.
State at Virginia Tech, Sunday, 2 p.m.
Wake at Pittsburgh, Sunday, 2 p.m.