Elissa Cunane missed both of N.C. State’s regular-season games against Virginia Tech. The junior made up for it at the right time.
Cunane, playing near her hometown of Summerfield, made her presence felt, scoring a season-high 27 points to lead the Wolfpack to a 68-55 win over the Hokies in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament. N.C. State, the No. 2 seed, improved to 25-15 in the quarterfinal round and will face Georgia Tech in a Saturday afternoon semifinal.
It was a highly anticipated matchup between friends Cunane and Hokies’ center Elizabeth Kitley, who played AAU basketball together. The post battle lived up to the billing, with Kitley finishing with 20 points. However, it was Cunane and the Wolfpack (18-2) who got the last laugh.
“There was a lot to make up for today,” Cunane said. “I had some time to make up after not playing Virginia Tech the first two times this season, and we are on a bigger stage now. It’s tournament time, one loss and you are out. We really have all notches turned up, offensively and defensively.”
Cunane got plenty of help from Jada Boyd, who came off the bench to finish with 13 points and 10 rebounds. But Cunane did most of the heavy lifting. She scored 16 points in the second half, eight in the fourth quarter, holding off the Hokies, who cut it to within six. Cunane scored on a spinning layup to start the final quarter.
Cunane scored more than 20 points for the 21st time in her career. She has scored in double figures in each ACC tournament game in which she’s played. During her All-ACC performance year, Cunane has only played in one game where she didn’t score in double digits.
N.C. State head coach Wes Moore said the first game when having a double bye “scares me to death” because he feels the team that played already has an advantage.
“I thought it was important we got off to a pretty good start,” Moore said. “And had a lead at halftime.”
Virginia Tech (14-9) was the last team to defeat N.C. State and the rubber match got off to a dead heat, tied at 16 after the first quarter. The Wolfpack got some separation in the second when the Hokies went cold, shooting 1-for-15 from the field.
Virginia Tech missed its first six shot attempts from the floor in the second before Georgia Amoore hit a 3 at the 5:45 mark. That made it a one-point Wolfpack lead, 22-21, but Jada Boyd and the Wolfpack found a groove. Boyd came off the bench to score nine points in the second quarter, at one point scoring four points in a 7-0 N.C. State run. Boyd played a big part in N.C. State’s bench outscoring Virginia Tech’s 17-2.
“She’s able to step out on the court and make a difference as soon as she gets out there,” Cunane said about Boyd. “They couldn’t guard her inside. She’s unstoppable.”
Boyd, who was named the ACC’s Sixth Person of the Year, scored in double-figures for the second straight game and made up for a marginal six-point performance in the previous matchup between the two teams.
“I think she’s so good at getting to the rim,” Moore said about Boyd. “She’s a little bit of an X-factor for us; she can help take us to another level.”
N.C. State has won 52 games in the ACC tournament and is two wins away from a chance to repeat as tournament champions. The Pack played championship defense, holding the high-scoring Hokies’ offense to 35% shooting from the floor.
In the previous two matchups, Virginia Tech hit a combined 23 3-pointers. They shot 5-for-21 from behind the line on Friday.
“They got some kids who can really shoot the ball,” Moore said. “We were fortunate. I think we did defend better, but there’s another aspect called H.T.M, hope they miss. Sometimes we play that H.T.M. defense.”
Five players for N.C. State scored at least seven points and four players played at least 30 minutes. Getting that first win out of the way relieves some stress moving forward.
“I think the first game is tough,” Moore said. “I was scared of this game, it’s good to have it under our belt. We won it a year ago so now we know we can do it. Hopefully, that gives us a little bit of an edge.”
With the win, N.C. State advances to the semifinal round for the fourth consecutive season. The Wolfpack has won six games in a row.