Anyone who has watched N.C. State the past few years, especially in the ACC Tournament, has seen this movie before.
The Wolfpack like to make it interesting, and that’s what happened at Reynolds Coliseum against No. 3 Louisville.
No. 4 N.C. State erased a 16-point lead in four minutes, igniting the capacity crowd and picking up its third straight home win over a ranked opponent. In one of the most impressive games of the year, the Pack came alive in the fourth quarter and knocked off the Cardinals, 68-60.
“Really proud of the effort and the way we fought back,” State head coach Wes Moore said. “You have to give Louisville credit, they came in here and they were the aggressor. They manhandled us on the boards, every which way possible. They were confident, they were knocking down shots. Finally in the fourth quarter I decided let’s go with the veterans.”
State veterans Diamond Johnson, Elissa Cunane and Jakia Brown-Turner combined for 29 points in the fourth. N.C. State went on an 11-0 run to pull within one after trailing by double-digits most of the game. Johnson’s 3 with 5:31 remaining gave N.C. State its first lead (55-53) since it led 11-10 in the first quarter.
The fourth quarter was Johnson’s time to shine.
The Rutgers transfer missed her first eight shots of the game, but had 14 points in the fourth, including three made 3-pointers. Once she saw a couple go down, there was no slowing down the Philadelphia native, who hit three or more 3s for the sixth time this season.
By the time Brown-Turner hit a corner 3 with 2:48 remaining, the tide had completely turned, putting State ahead 61-55. Moments later, Kai Crutchfield scored on a layup and the speakers blasted “We Will Rock You” by Queen.
The Pack definitely rocked the Cardinals, who were feeling good about their chances of winning for the fourth time in Reynolds. But the Wolfpack shook off its worst first half this season and played championship ball in the fourth quarter, outscoring Louisville 31-8 in the final frame.
“We started hitting shots, got a couple of turnovers off the press,” Moore said. “Got the crowd into it and Diamond, obviously, hit some unbelievable shots.”
N.C. State shot 2 of 13 from the field in the second quarter. There was a drought of 8:19 between their two made baskets, allowing Louisville to jump out to a 13-point halftime lead. It was just the second time this season the Pack trailed by double digits at the break.
Louisville forward Emily Engstler almost had a double-double at halftime (nine points, 10 rebounds). The Cardinals led by as many as 16 in the first half as State struggled to find a lineup that could score consistently or had an answer for Louisville in the paint.
Engstler’s 10 rebounds in the first half were a small example of the Cardinals’ dominance in the paint. In the first 16 minutes, Louisville scored 24 of its 34 points in the paint. Louisville had 11 offensive rebounds and 14 second chance points.
None of that mattered in the fourth, when State suddenly flipped a magical switch. In doing so, N.C. State snapped the Cards’ 15-game winning streak and knocked off its fifth ranked opponent this season.
Johnson finished with 16 points off the bench to lead N.C. State. It was similar finish to last year in the ACC final, when the Pack trailed UL by eight with nine minutes remaining in the game.
N.C. State has now won 13 straight regular-season ACC games, and 16 straight if you count the ACC tournament. This is the second time under Moore the team has started 8-0 in league play. Thursday’s win was just the second time the Wolfpack has defeated Louisville in Raleigh.
“Couldn’t be prouder of our kids,” Moore said. “We’ll enjoy this for a few hours then crank back up.”