The NC State women’s basketball team won its opening game of the NCAA Tournament Saturday afternoon, beating Maine 63-51 at Reynolds Coliseum.
The Wolfpack (27-5, 12-4 ACC) withstood a barrage of 3-pointers from the Black Bears (25-8, 15-1 America East) to survive the feisty America East champions.
“[Maine] was able to hang around, especially when they were knocking down 3s,” head coach Wes Moore said. “They do a lot of good things offensively, their scheme is good and they hit the shots, so hats off to them.”
The Wolfpack started off quick with a basket from freshman center Elissa Cunane followed by a 3-point basket from sophomore guard Kai Crutchfield. NC State struggled to solve the Maine defense thereafter, and the Black Bears held the Pack to just nine points with four minutes left in the first quarter, trailing 9-8.
“We hadn’t played in two weeks and offensively, that showed,” Moore said. “We got a little stagnant out there.”
Coming off of a timeout, the Pack picked up the pace after a quick Maine bucket, with graduate guard Kiara Leslie sinking two 3-pointers and a steal-and-score from junior guard Aislinn Konig fueling a 10-0 Wolfpack run to close out the first quarter.
The teams traded buckets for most of the second quarter, and a jumper by Maine forward Fanny Wadling cut the Pack’s lead to just six points, 28-22.
Back-to-back layups by Leslie and Cunane pushed the Pack’s lead back to 10 points, and with NC State threatening to break the game open, Konig swung a pass to Crutchfield in the corner, who calmly buried a 3-pointer and drew a foul on the shot. Crutchfield sank the free throw, completing the four-point play and giving the Pack a 14-point lead.
Crutchfield wasn’t done yet; with the Pack in the midst of an 8-0 run, she pulled up off the dribble and nailed a 3-pointer as the first-half buzzer sounded, giving NC State a 39-22 advantage to carry into the locker room.
“Those big shots by Kai helped us get a lot of energy,” Cunane said. “Reynolds had a lot of energy, so that fueled us going into halftime.”
After a slow first half on offense, Cunane came alive in the third quarter, scoring eight points on 3-for-4 shooting with two free throws, and corralling three rebounds. The Pack withstood a 3-point barrage from the Black Bears in the quarter, with Cunane leading the way in a poor offensive quarter to preserve a 51-37 lead after three quarters of play.
Maine continued to launch 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, connecting on 4 of 11 shots from beyond the arc, but the Pack buckled up and contained the Black Bears’ potent shooting, matching Maine bucket for bucket throughout the quarter to preserve the victory and move on to the second round.
Over 62 percent of the Black Bears’ shots came from beyond the arc, but the Wolfpack did a superb job limiting their effectiveness, holding Maine to just 11-for-37 shooting from deep.
“Sometimes maybe you just get a break too, maybe the shot didn’t go down,” Moore said. “But [Maine’s offense] is still so hard to guard.”
Cunane and Leslie led the way for the Wolfpack offensively, with Cunane scoring 16 points (7 for 13 FG, 2 for 3 FT) and grabbing nine rebounds, and Leslie connecting on 3 of 7 3-pointers for 20 points and six rebounds.
“My teammates just did a good job of getting me the ball,” Cunane said. “[They told] me not to dilly-dally and just get the ball and go up, and I just focused on that.”
The Wolfpack will return to action Monday in Reynolds Coliseum when it takes on six-seed Kentucky in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.