by Mike Potter
When the two teams played in Chapel Hill on Jan. 14, the Tar Heels looked headed for a blowout before State made a long comeback and wound up losing by just 83-76.
Kellie Harper’s team has played by far its best basketball at home, and has yet to drop a double-digit defeat in its historic arena this season.
The Tar Heels (22-4, 8-3) need wins to stay in position for a first-round bye in the ACC Tournament, while the Wolfpack (11-15, 2-9) needs to make a big run to have any chance for post-season play.
State gets a big lead, loses it, and then pulls away down the stretch for an 88-72 shocker.
And then the visitors fall apart for a while.
The Wolfpack goes on a 21-0 run, with nine of the points from Amber White, to go up 38-24 on a Brittany Strachan 3-pointer at 5:11.
The Tar Heels are never again closer than seven back in the half, and the Wolfpack leads 45-33 at intermission.
Strachan has 10 points at the half for State, while She’la White has 10 for the Tar Heels.
State shoots 38.3 percent to 34.1 for UNC, which leads the rebound battle 32-25. The Wolfpack commits two turnovers in the first half to the Tar Heels’ 10.
UNC recovers to go ahead midway through the second half, as She’la White’s second straight 3-pointer puts the Tar Heels ahead 55-52 with 11:43 to go.
But the Wolfpack takes the lead for good on a Strachan 3-pointer to make it 57-55 with 9:25 to go, part of a 25-6 run that puts the game away.
Amber White leads the Wolfpack with 23 points, followed by Bonae Holston with 13 points and a career-high 16 rebounds. Strachan and Kody Burke also hit 13 each for the Wolfpack, while Marissa Kastanek adds 10 points.
She’la White leads the Tar Heels with a career-high 20 points. Cetera DeGraffenreid chips in 12 while Laura Broomfield adds 11 points and a career-high 18 rebounds. Lucas and Breland add 10 points apiece.
State shoots 36 percent to UNC’s 36.6, while the Tar Heels win the rebound battle 65-56. And here’s the big stat: UNC turns the ball over 19 times to the Wolfpack’s school-record four.
They said it …
NCSU coach Kellie Harper: “We’ve been telling our kids all year to hang in there. We’re going to get a big win, and to keep fighting because it was going to happen. I thanked them after the game for believing and having faith in what our staff was saying, because it finally paid off tonight. … I don’t feel relief. I’m extremely proud and I’m happy that these kids are rewarded. So many times all season long — there was a different look on their face in the second half going down the stretch, and I had all the confidence in the world in these kids tonight. They were going to find a way to win this game.”
UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell: “You’ve got to give State a lot of credit. They played with a lot of heart. They outplayed us, even when we came out and took the lead in the second half. They didn’t play that many kids, but the ones they played played hard. We knew they were a lot better team than their record indicated. … We knew they were a lot better team. And I told the players before we came over here that (State) would be so up for this game, ‘Because unless they win the ACC Tournament they’re not going to make the NCAA. This game against Carolina is their season. They’ll give you everything they’ve got.’ If they play like they did tonight, they might win the ACC Championship.”
Amber White: “When we came back into the huddle after the first media timeout (of the second half), I told the team the same thing I tell them every time. It’s a game of runs. They’re going to make their run; we’re not going to hold them to zero points. But we had to do the things that got us our lead and make our run. Tonight was definitely rewarding. It was a great feeling.”
She’la White: “I think once we got the lead back we kind of got comfortable, and we can’t do that. The way we got the lead back was by fast-breaking, which was working well for us. And then we stopped doing that.”
What does it all mean?
That the Wolfpack has left the door open to get into post-season play without winning the ACC Tournament. And that the Tar Heels are going to need a big finish to get a first-round bye in Greensboro.
Stars of the game
1. Amber White.
3. She’la White.
Play of the game
Strachan’s 3-pointer that gave the Wolfpack the lead for good.
NCSU leads 51-41.
UNC: Lost 2.
NCSU: Won 2.
N.C. State vs. Boston College, Thursday, 7 p.m.
UNC vs. Georgia Tech, Thursday, 7 p.m.