by Mike Potter
REYNOLDS COLISEUM/RALEIGH It’s definitely a good test for N.C. State’s best team in a long time.
The Wolfpack is ranked No. 14 in the Associated Press poll with a flashy 22-5 record, but is coming off losses to its two biggest rivals in which State played very well each time.
Today’s opponent is Virginia, a .500 team which is about where the Wolfpack was picked to finish in the ACC. The Cavaliers are coached by Duke alumna and former Blue Devil player Joanne Boyle.
State comes into today’s action at 9-4 in the league and in a three-way tie for third with UNC and Maryland. And they all need to win, as the top four in the final standings won’t have to play in the five-day ACC Tournament until the third day.
State has had uncanny bad luck in the injury department over the past four days. Two seniors — starting guard Myisha Goodwin-Coleman and top post reserve Lakeesa Daniel — are both out for the season with ACL injuries. Goodwin-Coleman suffered hers during Thursday’s game at Duke while Daniel’s happened in a non-contact drill at Friday’s practice.
But today State gets a little lucky. Kody Burke, coming off her career 30-point game at Duke, is 1-for-13 from the floor until she lets fly with the game-winning 3-pointer with 11 seconds left as the Wolfpack wins 68-66.
Both teams get nice leads but are unable to put the game away.
There are three ties and eight lead changes in the contest.
State’s biggest advantage is 10, at 21-11 and 24-14 following 3-pointers from Miah Spencer and Jennifer Mathurin in the first half. And the Wolfpack leads 43-34 following a Spencer layup with 15:56 to go before the Cavaliers respond with a 27-9 run to make it 61-52 on Breyanna Mason’s jumper at 6:53.
The Wolfpack scores nine straight, tying it at 61-61 on a Spencer 3-pointer with 1:28 to go. There are five lead changes in the last 56 seconds including Burke’s heroics.
Markeisha Gatling finishes with 22 points and 11 rebounds for her fourth double-double of the season, followed by the freshman Spencer with a season-high 17. Len’Nique Brown chips in 12.
Virginia plays one of its better games of the season in what the Cavaliers acknowledge is a devastating loss. Ataira Franklin and Faith Randolph lead the way with 15 points apiece, followed by Kelsey Wolfe with 13 and Lexie Gerson 11.
Virginia shoots 51 percent to State’s 49 but loses the rebound battle 37-25. The Wolfpack hits 17 of 20 free throws to Virginia’s 6-for-9.
They said it …
State coach Wes Moore: “What a week! It’s been very emotional the last few days. I’m so proud of these kids. We’ve got several seniors on this team, and to see a couple of teammates and classmates go down with injuries has been very tough, not to mention trying to fill in the gaps. I’m proud of the way we hung in. Great coaching here when Kody Burke hits the game-winner, huh?”
Virginia coach Joanne Boyle: “It’s a tough loss. It was a great battle, back and forth the whole time. Just give credit — they made a big play at the end and we didn’t recover at the other end. We played good defense.”
Burke: “I knew I had to do something. Something had to fall in. (Krystal Barrett) did a good job of penetrating and then found me and had the confidence to pass it to me. As a senior all I can do is play with confidence and provide a role model for the underclassmen, and sure enough it worked out.”
Spencer: “Coach has a lot of confidence in me. I knew I was going to have to step up and show Coach I’m ready to take on Myisha’s role. It’s a big role to fill, but I feel like I can do it. I’m trying not to play like a freshman, but to step my game up on the defensive end.”
What does it all mean?
That one State win and one UNC loss would give the Wolfpack two rounds of byes in the ACC Tournament. And that Virginia needs a miracle to get into post-season play.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Burke’s game-winning 3-pointer with 11 seconds left.
State: Won 1.
Virginia: Lost 2.
Virginia leads 38-33.
State at Pittsburgh, Thursday, 7 p.m.
Virginia vs. Miami, Thursday, 7 p.m.