With a myriad of seeding ramifications for the upcoming ACC Tournament on the line entering the final week of the regular season, N.C. State did its part to make things clear heading into the weekend.
The 13th ranked Wolfpack defeated the Pittsburgh Panthers, 79-68, in the penultimate game of State’s regular season. The victory marks the 800th win in program history for N.C. State (24-5 overall, 11-4 ACC).
The Pack, which had not won 11 games in conference since the 1999-2000 campaign, also clinched at least a top-four spot in the ACC with the triumph, coupled with No. 14 North Carolina’s loss to No. 2 Notre Dame on Thursday, and will receive a double-bye in the upcoming ACC Tournament.
N.C. State had five players score in double-figures, led by senior center Markeisha Gatling with 20 points. Junior guard Len’Nique Brown added 19 points and produced some clutch free throw shooting in the games final minutes. Freshman guard Miah Spencer and senior forward Kody Burke scored 14 and 11 points, respectively.
Freshman forward Jennifer Mathurin also posted the first double-double of her career with 10 points and 10 rebounds for N.C. State. Mathurin has played extended minutes in the two games since redshirt-senior forward Lakeesa Daniel went down with a season-ending knee injury.
“Five in double figures and then for [Mathurin] to go out and have a double-double, she did an awesome job on the offensive boards,” N.C. State head coach Wes Moore said. “She had as many offensive boards as the rest of the team did, so good for her.”
Mathurin said she is just doing her part to help her team.
“I knew I had to step up, especially because [Daniel] is injured,” Mathurin said. “My main priority is to crash the boards and play defense.”
The Wolfpack jumped out to an early advantage when Spencer drilled two early three-pointers to give State the lead. The Pack held a 12-point advantage at halftime, paced by a balanced attack with four players scoring at least seven points.
State stretched the lead to 21 points after senior forward Kody Burke sank a free throw with 16:18 left to cap a 14-2 run after intermission.
But Pitt would not go down without a fight. The Panthers made a late push and went on a 12-1 run to cut the deficit to seven points with 1:37 remaining, after Gatling fouled out. Moore called a timeout and State stretched its lead back to double-digits after four free throws from Brown.
The Panthers forced State to commit 13 turnovers in the second half, and a late steal and basket cut the Wolfpack’s lead back to seven with 46 seconds remaining. Mathurin sank a free throw and Brown followed with two more from the charity stripe to extend the lead to 10 points with 30 seconds remaining, and the Pack was never threatened again.
“I hate to rain on the parade, but I was a little disappointed in the way the game finished,” Moore said. “We turned it over, we took some quick shots when we were trying to eat clock. You have to give Pitt credit. They kept battling and it would have been easy to call it a day.”
N.C. State returns to action on Sunday when the Pack host undefeated and the 2nd ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Senior Day at Reynolds Coliseum. Tip is set for 2:30 p.m.