by Mike Potter
REYNOLDS COLISEUM/RALEIGH N.C. State will try to finish its season on a good note with some success in the WNIT, but the Wolfpack’s first-round assignment isn’t an easy one.
The Wolfpack of course needs victories to assure its second straight winning season as charismatic senior guard Marissa Kastanek ends her college career, playing tonight in her school-record 132nd game.
Richmond has a couple of locals on its roster. Junior guard Amber Nichols (Broughton) is a reserve while sophomore forward Amber Battle (Middle Creek) is out for the year with injuries.
It isn’t easy, but the Wolfpack rallies in the final four minutes to escape with a 60-55 victory.
State leads 28-24 at the break after a cold-shooting half for both teams. The Wolfpack shoots 41.4 percent from the floor over the period to the Spiders’ 33.3 and leads the rebound battle 24-12, but commits 14 turnovers to Richmond’s 11.
Neither team ever leads by more than six points. The first of those comes when Richmond is up 41-35 on a layup from Nichols with 7:09 to go.
The Spiders still lead 47-42 before Kastanek hits a jumper at 3:59, and Kody Burke follows with a three-point play to tie the score at 3:25.
Richmond leads once more on a Kristina King layup at 3:08 before Markeisha Gatling goes to work, scoring on a layup from Kastanek at 2:48 and another from Burke at 2:03 to start the killer 7-0 run.
State goes 9-for-10 at the line over the final 1:04, with Gatling knocking down the final two with 11 seconds left to complete the scoring.
Gatling finishes with 14 points and nine rebounds, followed by Burke with 12 and nine.
Becca Wann comes off the bench to lead the Spiders with 20 points and 11 boards.
State shoots 38.6 percent to the Spiders’ 33.9 and wins the rebound battle 44-30. The Wolfpack commits 21 turnovers to Richmond’s 19.
They said it …
State coach Kellie Harper: “Where do you start? We knew this was going to be a tough matchup. They’re a solid basketball team. And I’m really, really proud of our team down the stretch. When we had to make a play, we made a play. We made our free throws down the stretch. I’m proud of our team finding a way to finish that game.”
Richmond coach Michael Shafer: “It was what we expected. They’re a physical, big basketball team, and I think that’s the difference in their team this year. When the game mattered, when we got the lead and they needed to make plays, they imposed their size on us and we didn’t have an answer. It was a great basketball game and a great challenge.”
Gatling: “I just knew we needed a basket (on the late layups). I knew I had to make plays.”
Kastanek: “It was pretty intense. But I knew I couldn’t force everything. I knew Keisha and Kody needed to get the ball, because they were so much bigger. And they (Wolfpack post players) were on a run for that last part.”
What does it all mean?
That the Wolfpack can’t have a losing season, and has a chance to put on an exclamation point.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Gatling’s layup from Burke to put the Wolfpack up 51-49 with 2:03 to go.
State: Won 1.
Richmond: Lost 3.
State at James Madison, Sunday, 2 p.m.