by Mike Potter
REYNOLDS COLISEUM/RALEIGH Kellie Harper said when she became the head women's basketball coach at N.C. State she wanted to put her own personal stamp on the program.
That's what the former Western Carolina coach and Tennessee point guard - who led the Lady Vols to three NCAA titles - needed to do in the wake of replacing the legendary Kay Yow, who died last January after a 22-year fight with breast cancer.
Tonight she leads her veteran team against Florida International, which rolled the Wolfpack 58-42 last season in Miami, in the nightcap of the Sheraton Raleigh Wolfpack Invitational. It's the second straight season the Wolfpack has opened with a four-team tournament on Kay Yow Court.
Vermont wins the opener over Western Michigan 79-65 and will play in the championship on Saturday night at 6:30.
The Catamounts will be playing the Wolfpack for the title, since State wins a very odd game 87-71.
In the nightcap, the Wolfpack hits the court looking for revenge. And it's a very, very strange first half.
State presses the Golden Panthers into submission over the first 14 minutes, leading 31-10 on a Nikitta Gartrell layup with 6:24 left in the period.
So how did they possibly trail at the half 39-38? Because the visitors, the roster dominated by players from Eastern Europe, hits six 3-pointers in a 22-1 run to take the lead.
FIU is still up 53-49 following a Marquita Adley layup with 11:30 to go. The Wolfpack goes on an 11-0 run at that point but the visitors keep hanging on, trailing just 66-63 on Ashley Traugott's last 3-pointer with 4:23 left.
But that's about all of that. State goes on an 18-2 run and it's time to shake hands.
Bonae Holston leads the Wolfpack with 20 points, followed by Amber White with 17, Gartrell 14 and freshman Marissa Kastanek - who started in the first game of her career - with 11.
Traugott leads FIU with 25 points including 7-for-8 from outside the arc, while Monika Bosilj adds 20 and Adley chips in 11 with 13 rebounds.
The Wolfpack shoots 49.2 percent from the floor to the visitors' 49.0 and wins the rebound battle 34-30. State forces 27 turnovers to 14 of its own and shoots 83.3 percent from the line.
They said it ...
Harper: "I just had my great Reynolds atmosphere experience at N.C. State. That was an exciting basketball game and it was a lot of fun. I'm proud of our kids. I thought they gave us a lot of energy when we needed it and kept pouring it on. ...
"The last four minutes of the first half we were playing a half-court defense most of the time. They were able to find shooters, obviously. We lacked a little bit of pressure that we needed at that time, and we weren't scoring at the other end. We couldn't get our press set for their offense. Give a lot of credit to their kids for knocking down seven (3-pointers) in a row. I kept thinking after about four that surely to God (Traugott) was going to miss. ... If fans came to that game and didn't enjoy it, they're not basketball fans. I think our team needs to play high-energy to be successful, and we were able to do that for about 36 minutes tonight."
Holston: "Last year the offenses we ran weren't as free. Most of my shots were close to the basket. Now I can score from wherever I can score from. ... It was exciting, the start of a new season. We're playing a new system, running up and down the court. There were a lot of emotions involved, but it was exciting."
N.C. State forward Lucy Ellison: "I think we kind of just came out and played. No worries about 'Is Coach Yow OK?' We were just talking to each other at halftime about what we needed to do better. And we picked it up."
What does it all mean?
That Harper has the relief of having that jittery first game behind her. And the Wolfpack got its revenge.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Gartrell's old-fashioned three-point play that made the score 55-53 with 10:50 to play.
Florida International vs. Western Michigan, Saturday, 4 p.m.
N.C. State vs. Vermont, Saturday, 6:30 p.m.