by Mike Potter
REYNOLDS COLISEUM/RALEIGH N.C. State comes back home for the first of its annual home-and-home series with ancient rival Wake Forest, and the TV cameras are in the house.
Both teams are playing well heading into the contest. State (11-7, 1-2 ACC) won its only previous ACC road game when it trounced defending conference champion Maryland 15 days ago and came up just three points short at No. 16 Florida State on Sunday.
Wake (11-7, 2-2) beat visiting No. 25 Miami 67-64 on Sunday in a very rare win over a ranked team.
State won both regular season meetings last season, including a 65-63 overtime victory in Winston-Salem on Feb. 17. That game had been postponed to that date immediately after the death of Coach Kay Yow on Jan. 24.
But the Deacons had knocked the Wolfpack out of the first round of the ACC Tournament In Greensboro last season, 59-54 in what was a horrible heartbreaker for the Wolfpack.
This time there's no heartbreaker, as the first buzzer-beater of the college career of junior Amber White' (pictured) gives the Wolfpack a 51-49 win.
The first 39 minutes just aren't very pretty on either side. State leads 23-21 at halftime after shooting 36 percent to the Deacons' 39.1.
Neither team ever leads by more than seven points, but the Deacons hold a small advantage for most of the second half. Wake leads 49-46 after a Secily Ray layup with 1:13 to go before the Wolfpack gets its late magic.
With 15 seconds to go senior Nikitta Gartrell shoots a clothesline shot from the left corner to tie the score, and the Deacons call time out.
Wake's little point guard Brooke Thomas decides to try to go coast-to-coast for the win, but misses an eight-foot jumper in the lane and Gartrell rebounds. She gets the ball to White, who dribbles down to about 15 feet to the left of the hoop, swishes a rainbow and lands on her backside in the middle of a wild celebration.
And the Deacons waste little time getting back to the locker room.
Bonae Holston leads the Wolfpack with 15 points, followed by Gartrell with 10 points and nine rebounds and White with 10 points.
Ray paces the Deacons with 20, but nobody else is in double figures.
The Wolfpack shoots 37.5 percent and the Deacons 39.6. State wins the rebound battle 38-33, committing 18 turnovers to the visitors' 17.
They said it ...
NCSU coach Kellie Harper: "First of all, I'm pretty happy to be sitting on this side of the win. My heart goes out to Wake Forest and their players and coaches and staff. I know what they feel like. As we learned at Florida State it is a 40-minute game. Every basket and every play counts. We drew the shot up to get Nikitta the '3.' We had originally drawn it up for Marissa, but we figured in a tight spot Nikitta would be able to get a shot off a little bit easier. Nikitta right now is a very determined young lady with a sense of urgency about her."
Wake coach Mike Petersen: "They made two really big shots at the end. We didn't get the shot we wanted, and it was too early. We wanted to take the last shot of the game. We had a play called, we were supposed to get the last shot of the game and we didn't get the last shot of the game. It's what happens when you don't get the last shot of the game in that situation. Until the last 15 seconds of the game, our defense was pretty good."
Gartrell: "When I released my shot, it kind of felt like I laid back too far. It felt pretty good, but it looked like it was going to be short. It went in, so I was pretty happy. Nothing was falling tonight, so we had to rely a lot on our defense. That wasn't the best defense N.C. State has ever played. ... I felt like (remembering last season's finale) all day. That was my motivation as far as going into this game tonight, thinking about the Wake game."
White: "We talked about in the huddle that we were going to try to get a stop. Once I saw the ball come off the rim and I looked up, there were six seconds left on the clock. We had talked about it and knew if we pushed it hard we could get down the court in three seconds, so once I got down there I tried to give them a hesitation and get a layup. But then I saw (Courteney) Morris set up and I pretty much put up a prayer. My adrenaline was racing. I felt like if I had passed, I never knew what was going to happen. It was a tied ball game, and I felt the best thing to do right there was just to try to get a shot up. ... Before I saw it I saw the basket. Once I jumped, it was pretty much accuracy."
What does it all mean?
That the Wolfpack has plenty of momentum heading into Monday night's game against the Tar Heels. And that the Deacons' road struggles in the conference continue on.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
NCSU leads 59-8.
NCSU: Won 1.
Wake Forest: Lost 1.
Wake Forestvs. Clemson, Sunday, 2 p.m.
N.C. State vs. UNC, Monday, 7 p.m.