by Mike Potter
REYNOLDS COLISEUM/RALEIGH N.C. State gets its first challenge of the season from a team that played in the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament last season.
And there's a championship on the line, as it's the final game of the Sheraton Raleigh Wolfpack Invitational.
The consolation game is a barnburner, as Florida International escapes a determined Western Michigan team 64-61 in overtime.
First-year Wolfpack coach Kellie Harper is looking for her 99th career victory in the title game against Vermont. The young coach, an accomplished fashionista, has broken out the red tonight. She was in a pastel gray for the season opener against FIU, but a championship game against a team that won over 20 games last season is extra-special.
Sharon Dawley's Catamounts turn out to be a very organized, well-oiled bunch and eventually holds on to win the championship 52-47.
Whether or not they have more talent than the Wolfpack might be up for debate, but they're certainly used to winning and show the N.C. State fans why.
It never looks like a blowout about to happen, and the crowd never gives up on the home team. But the visitors are in the lead for 39 minutes as the Wolfpack fights their 2-3 zone.
It's 4-4 before Vermont runs off the next eight points, five of them from Kendra Soto.
Vermont's biggest lead of the night is 11 points, at 19-8 on a jumper from Courtney Pilypatis, but the Wolfpack comes back to cut the halftime margin to 28-26.
State takes a 30-29 lead on a Bonae Holston follow with 18:33 to play before the visitors get their working margin again, making it 42-32 on a Pilypatis free throw with 14:27 to go.
The Wolfpack keeps coming, making it 47-47 with 59 seconds left on a short jumper from Lucy Ellison. But Pilypatis responds with a layup in traffic with 36 ticks left and adds a free throw 11 seconds later. Soto's two free throws with three seconds showing are just icing on the cake.
Nikitta Gartrell has 10 points and is the only State player in double figures.
May Kotsopoulos, who finishes with 21 points for Vermont, is named the tournament's MVP while Pilypatis is also on the all-tourney team. Holston and teammate Amber White make the team for the Wolfpack, and FIU's Marquita Adley is the fifth member.
State outshoots the visitors 37.0 percent to 34.6 and wins the rebound battle 42-34, but commits 21 turnovers to 14 for Vermont.
They said it ...
NCSU coach Kellie Harper: "I'm quite disappointed. I don't take losing very well. Vermont is a very, very good basketball team, first of all. They're a proven winning team, and they're very intelligent. They pass the ball well. They know their roles, and they're efficient. It's a tough matchup for us right now. It took us a while to get our energy where it needed to be, and we obviously are still learning. We have a lot of things we need to learn to do better, and we will learn. We definitely will improve. You don't get that many chances to play the game. When you take the court you need to have so much energy you can't be tired. I thought the biggest advantage we'd have would be our energy, and we didn't have that to start the game. If you don't start out with energy they'll pick you apart."
Vermont coach Sharon Dawley: "I'm very proud. The key word is composure. There's so many times we could have broken down. We could have lost it and had a silly turnover. We're just fortunate that we have four seniors that play with so much passion and confidence."
White: "(Pilypatis) was a great player. She worked very hard and is very smart. ... Nobody wants to lose. It's never a good feeling to lose. The biggest thing here is just to learn from our mistakes and carry it over and make a better effort."
What does it all mean?
That Vermont is a solid team that will win a lot of games in the America East Conference this season, while the Wolfpack may still have a ways to go to find itself.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Pilypaitis' jumper with 36 seconds left that gave the Catamounts the lead for good at 49-47.
Vermont leads 1-0.
NCSU: Lost 1.
Vermont: Won 2.
N.C. State vs. Florida Atlantic, Tuesday, 7 p.m.
Vermont at Boston College, Nov. 22, 2 p.m.