REYNOLDS COLISEUM/RALEIGH Kellie Harper gets her first test of her ability to coach a big home-court upset for N.C. State tonight.
The opponent is archrival UNC, Sylvia Hatchell's Tar Heels being the preseason favorites in the ACC and currently ranked No. 14 nationally. And the regional TV cameras are in the house.
Truth be told, the Wolfpack has performed a little better than expected so far while the Tar Heels have hit a couple of unexpected bumps.
UNC has won 17 of the last 19 meetings, although the Wolfpack has more wins against the Tar Heels than anybody and is looking for its 50th victory in the series.
One of the most interesting games in the ACC last season was UNC's 75-66 win over the Wolfpack in the Smith Center for Hatchell's 800th victory. The Tar Heels came back stronger in the second meeting, rolling to a 74-57 win.
Tonight is one night after the anniversary of the death of the legendary former Wolfpack coach Kay Yow. And there's a season-high 5,250 fans in the house.
The Tar Heels have a hard time getting going, but Italee Lucas (pictured) finishes with a career-high 33 points as they hold off the upset 81-69.
The Wolfpack leads most of the first half and takes a 29-28 lead into the locker room. Brittany Strachan leads the charge with 11 points including a trio of 3-pointers that are the only ones anybody hits in the first half.
The Tar Heels, who are out-rebounding the Wolfpack 29-20 at halftime, are 0-for-7 from 3-point land at the break.
State leads by eight on two occasions in the second half, the last at 42-34 on a Tia Bell jumper with 16:14 showing. But Lucas takes over the game for about the next 10 minutes, sending the Tar Heels ahead for good on a reverse layup that makes it 58-57 with 8:11 to go.
The stat of the game is that the Tar Heels connect on their final 20 free-throw attempts.
Lucas' point total matches a 33-point effort from Ivory Latta against Old Dominion five seasons ago, and is the most since a 35-point game from Tracy Reid against Florida State 11 years back.
Cetera DeGraffenreid rides the strength of 10-for-10 from the line for a 16-point game with eight rebounds, while freshman Waltiea Rolle finishes with 12 points, eight rebounds and seven blocks. Laura Broomfield has eight points to go along with her 16 rebounds.
Strachan leads the Wolfpack with 16 points off the bench while Tia Bell hits 12 in a reserve role. Bonae Holston hits 12 and is the only starter with more than seven. Those come from Nikitta Gartrell who hits her 1,000th point and has seven rebounds and five assists on an icy shooting night.
UNC shoots 37.3 percent to 31.2 for State, which goes 9-for-25 outside the arc. UNC wins the rebound battle 56-43, but commits 20 turnovers to 17 for the Wolfpack.
They said it ...
UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell: "First of all, we've got to give a lot of credit to N.C. State. I've watched a lot of their games - Wake, Florida State, Maryland - and I was so impressed with how hard they played. They played harder than we did in the first half and the first 5-6 minutes of the second half. We wanted to be more aggressive, and in the first half we were trying to make too many sets instead of doing fast-break basketball. We got after it a little bit more. Italee got going, Cetera made a difference running the team, and this freshman (Rolle) is going to be a good one. This was a big win for us on the road."
NCSU coach Kellie Harper: "It was a great atmosphere that I've been looking forward to for a long time. Obviously a great rivalry and two teams ready to compete tonight. I was a little disappointed in our execution on both ends of the floor late in the second half, and obviously Lucas made some really tough shots and we were unable to make some adjustments on her. Her scoring on the other end affected us. We were a little disappointed with the rebounding margin. Our kids come to win now and we were disappointed we were unable to do that tonight. We defended her well and she was still able to score."
Lucas: "The plays that we run definitely give me open looks, and Cetera being able to penetrate and kick. And Waltiea is like our safety back there."
Strachan: "I think they just were aware of where I was more in the second half. That changed the amount of time I had to get my shot off. That was one of the big adjustments they made."
What does it all mean?
That the Tar Heels can take the best shot of a very good team on the road and survive. And that the Wolfpack, though competitive with anyone on the schedule so far, still needs to learn how to wrap up victories.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Lucas' reverse layup with 8:11 left to put the Tar Heels ahead for good.
NCSU leads 49-40.
NCSU: Lost 1.
UNC: Won 3.
NCSU at Virginia, Wednesday, 7 p.m.
UNC vs. Florida State, Feb. 2, 7 p.m.