by Mike Potter
GREENSBORO COLISEUM During football season they call this matchup the "Textile Bowl" between the two largest land-grant institutions in the Carolinas.
N.C. State will be looking for revenge against Clemson in the nightcap of the first round of the ACC Women's Basketball Tournament. It was at Littlejohn Coliseum on Jan. 31 where the Wolfpack played its worst game of the season in a 69-56 loss.
Kellie Harper's 17-12 club may need to win this one to start nailing down an invite to the NCAA Tournament.
Clemson, coached by NCSU alumna Cristy McKinney, is 13-17 and is the only team in the ACC with a losing record.
It's a 40-minute grind, but the Wolfpack will advance with a 59-54 victory.
State never trails in the first half, leading 14-5 on a jumper from Bonae Holston (pictured) at 13:36 and holding a working margin most of the way before leading 24-19 at the break.
But the Tigers don't go belly-up. Clemson takes its biggest lead of the game on a Lele Hardy layup that makes it 44-40 with 7:56 to go before the Wolfpack makes its late push.
The last tie is at 47-47 on a pair of Keyrra Gillespie free throws before the Wolfpack goes on a 7-0 run. Holston hits a jumper at 4:37 and a layup from Marissa Kastanek at 3:26, with Kastanek's third 3-pointer of the half making it 54-47 with 2:52 to go and putting the Tigers on their heels.
Clemson's last gasp is Christy Brown's steal and 3-pointer with 11 seconds left to slice State's lead to 57-54, but a pair of Holston free throws with nine seconds showing completes the scoring.
Holston leads all scorers with 22 points and nine rebounds, while Kastanek chips in 12 points and senior Nikitta Gartrell 10.
Sthefany Thomas paces Clemson with 17 points, followed by Hardy with 13 in her final college game and Brown with 12.
The Wolfpack shoots 35.6 percent to the Tigers' 35.0, but it's the 47-33 rebound difference that wins the game.
Clemson commits 19 turnovers to State's 22.
They said it:
NCSU coach Kellie Harper: "We're excited that we're advancing in the tournament. It was by no means our prettiest game, but at this point a win is a win. Clemson did a lot of good things tonight and really pressured us into some turnovers. It was a defensive struggle for both teams. But I'm really proud of our kids for showing some resilience and finding a way to finish the game with a win."
Clemson coach Cristy McKinney: "It's a disappointing end to a disappointing season. N.C. State should be given a lot of credit for playing extremely hard. They were really trying to take us out, which is what they wanted to do, trying to negate our inside game. ... We picked a bad day to have a bad game."
Gartrell: "I'm really excited right now. I don't know really the last time I was sitting here advancing to the next round. Right now it's another great opportunity, so I just have to take it game by game."
Kastanek: "My confidence was good in the second half. I realized early in the season that if I go into the locker room after the first half with my head down and no confidence in myself, the second half is going to go the same way. I just went into the locker room with positive attitude and I kept praying, you know, just to give me confidence. And my teammates all say, 'The first half is over. Let's go to the second half.'"
What does it all mean?
That the Wolfpack moved one step closer to a couple of its biggest goals, and that Clemson at least went out with a fight.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Kastanek's 3-pointer with 2:52 left to make it 54-47.
NCSU leads 48-39.
NCSU: Won 2.
Clemson: Lost 1.
N.C. State vs. Virginia, Friday, 8 p.m.