by Mike Potter
REYNOLDS COLISEUM/RALEIGH N.C. State plays its final home game before its Christmas break, and the Wolfpack is in need of a win to keep its momentum headed in the right direction.
It's a "guarantee" game against Big South member Winthrop, and the Wolfpack (6-4) - which hasn't lost to anybody by more than six points - will be favored.
State has one brand-new player in freshman post Kelsie Lliteras, who took care of some academic concerns in the first semester at Durham Tech and is now ready to go. She's from Nebraska like freshman guard Marissa Kastanek, and they have played on an AAU team together.
The place is officially in the "holiday spirit," as the team will pose for group pictures with young fans after the game and there's a toy collection for underprivileged kids at the door. And all's well that ends well for the Wolfpack in a 66-53 victory.
The Wolfpack is a little too generous for Harper's liking in the first half. State leads 30-28 at the break after trailing by as many as seven points in the opening period.
Winthrop actually leads in the second half - at 31-30 on a Jessica Fansler 3-pointer with 19:25 to go.
But the Wolfpack responds with a 9-0 run, including four points from Nikitta Gartrell and four from Brittany Strachan, to get some breathing room.
The lead is comfortable the rest of the way, but it never turns into a blowout. State's biggest advantage is at 64-49 on a Tia Bell free throw with 1:17 left.
Lliteras gets in late and hits her only shot, a short jumper with 20 seconds left that completes the scoring for the game.
Bonae Holston (pictured) dominates in stretches and finishes with 17 points for the Wolfpack, while Strachan adds 10.
Shanice Cole finishes with 15 points and Fansler 10 for the Eagles.
State shoots 37.1 percent to 35.2 for Winthrop. The taller Eagles match State's rebound total of 42, but commit 28 turnovers to the hosts' 20.
After the game the team sings "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" on the P.A. system. Tough to say if there's an "American Idol" hopeful in the bunch or not.
They said it ...
NCSU coach Kellie Harper: "We're obviously happy to get a win. We didn't shoot well in the first half and missed a lot of shots we felt we can make. I think we did a better job in the second. Defensively I was a little disappointed in where we were tonight in our half-court defense. We had to institute the press on every possession to generate some energy and some steal opportunities. We just told them (at halftime) to focus on the finish in the paint, and we talked about our lack of physical box-outs."
Holston: "I think the intensity on the defensive end picked up a lot in the second half. We picked up some steals and we pressured them into making turnovers. That gave us a little spark."
Strachan: "Coach just wanted us to come out and play harder in the second half. She challenged us to come out and put more effort into it. I think we responded well to that."
What does it all mean?
That the Wolfpack is doing a good job taking care of business when it's clearly supposed to win.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Sharnise Beal's 3-pointer with 5:04 left to make it 58-45.
NCSU leads 2-0.
NCSU: Won 1.
Winthrop: Lost 2.
Winthrop at Campbell, Monday, 7 p.m.
NCSU at Georgetown, Tuesday, 7 p.m.