Johnson

Sophomore guard Diamond Johnson moves down the court in the game against Louisville on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022 in Reynolds Coliseum. Johnson led the team as she made three 3-pointers and six rebounds during the game. The Wolfpack pulled out a win over the Cardinals 68-59.

The No. 4 NC State women’s basketball team upset the No. 3 Louisville Cardinals in dramatic fashion, riding a 31-9 fourth quarter to a 68-60 win inside Reynolds Coliseum on Thursday, Jan. 20.

Reynolds was perhaps the loudest it has ever been in the Pack’s (17-2, 8-0 ACC) storybook fourth quarter, and for good reason. At the start of the fourth period, NC State was down 51-37, having gone down by as many as 16 points earlier in the contest. In the span of just three minutes and 14 seconds, the Wolfpack erased Louisville’s (15-2, 5-1 ACC) lead and took a 55-53 lead, its first lead since the first quarter.

“Really proud of the effort and the way we fought back,” said head coach Wes Moore. “Obviously a very disappointing and frustrating first three quarters. Gotta give Louisville credit. They came in here, they were the aggressor. … And finally, in the fourth quarter … we started hitting shots and theirs started rolling out a bit. … And [sophomore guard] Diamond [Johnson] obviously hit some unbelievable shots where the coach is over there going, ‘No, no, no, nice job.’”

NC State’s biggest contribution came from Diamond Johnson. Johnson started the game shooting 1 for 12 but one look at her wrist reminded her what she was capable of. On Johnson’s wristband, written in Sharpie, reads, “Nobody can stop you but you.” Johnson had three crucial 3-pointers to spark the Pack’s miracle comeback win, finishing with a team-high 16 points.

“I wear this every game now,” Johnson said. “I started probably two weeks ago. It just gives me a reminder of who I am. Don’t lose your confidence. Just keep shooting. My shot wasn’t falling the first three quarters, so just keeping my confidence. When I’m on the bench I’m looking at my wrist because I’m anxious to get in the game. When it’s my time, I just go in and know it’s my time.”

On top of Johnson’s big night, the Pack went on a 21-2 run, saw several big plays from junior wing Jakia Brown-Turner and senior center Elissa Cunane and held Louisville to 21.4% from the floor during the stunning turnaround. NC State was 1 of 13 from deep in the first three quarters. It didn’t matter; the Pack got bucket after bucket in the final frame, hitting five of its six 3-point attempts and shooting a hilariously good 78.6% from the field.

It’s a culture win if there ever was one. Moore’s Wolfpack teams are seemingly in every game until the final buzzer and the “cardiac Pack” absolutely could’ve quit after going down 45-29 midway through the third quarter. It didn’t.

Brown-Turner immediately set the tone of what was to come for the Pack in the fourth, quickly getting a jumper, followed by a steal and beautiful pass to Johnson, who came away with an easy layup. That was the play of the game for the Pack at that point, but, unbeknownst to anyone, was only the beginning for NC State.

“I think it was when we got a steal,” Brown-Turner said of the momentum shift. “We just kept getting steals. We turned up the defensive intensity, and that’s what helped us make buckets.”

Quickly after, Johnson hit the first 3-pointer of the half for the Pack, amping up the crowd. Cunane picked up a block on the other end with Brown-Turner hitting a 3 of her own. Suddenly, the Pack was down by just six points, and the Wolfpack onslaught refused to stop.

“At some point, you go back to the veterans and, you know, Diamond was playing well,” Moore said. “And hey, if we have momentum, you know, they’re liable to hold up their fist saying they need a breather and I’m going to look the other way and pretend I didn't see them. If things are going well, we're gonna let it ride, and so that's what happened before the [fourth] period and like I said, it was amazing what they were able to do.”

The next five scores in the game? Brown-Turner layup, Cunane layup, Cunane free throw and two straight Johnson 3-pointers. NC State just couldn’t be stopped en route to its eight-point win.

Of course, in order for there to be a dramatic comeback, there has to be a hole to escape from in the first place. NC State’s first three quarters compared to the fourth-quarter effort was night-and-day, with the Wolfpack looking like two completely different teams. In the first three quarters, the Pack shot just 29.3% from the field and 7.7% from 3.

The first quarter opened at a break-neck pace, with the two uber-competitive squads exchanging blows left and right, and a whopping eight lead changes within the first seven minutes. Graduate guard Raina Perez continued her recent trend of strong starts with five opening-quarter points and a big 3-pointer.

Then came the second quarter.

NC State managed just six points in the entire second period, failing to score for nearly eight minutes and making just two field goals. Meanwhile, the Cardinals had a ridiculous 11 offensive boards by the half and Louisville forward Olivia Cochran had as many field goals by herself as the entire Pack roster did in the quarter. Emily Engstler and Cochran had 20 combined points and 14 boards by the end of the half, absolutely dominating the frontcourt.

The third quarter brought more of the same misery for the Wolfpack. Cunane started to get going and scored the first eight second-half points for the Pack, but Louisville answered everything NC State threw at it. Cochran scored six more points in the third, having 17 points and six boards at the time.

At the start of the fourth quarter, the Pack’s energy seemed drained, but the crowd’s energy never waned. For every foul, the Wolfpack faithful booed the officiating and for every Pack score, the loud fans got even louder. 

“I definitely was in the zone,” Johnson said. “Once I start clapping and get to talking, I’m definitely in the zone. I don’t usually clap like that. But when I’m feeling it, I’m feeling it. The energy from my teammates, the crowd was just unbelievable. It’s just fun playing with this crowd. They’re very supportive. They cheer you on whether we’re down, whether we’re up. That definitely helped us get this win tonight.”

That energy kept rising for the remainder of the game, helping spark NC State's remarkable turnaround and flat-out dominant fourth-quarter run. Cunane wrapped up the game with 15 points and 12 rebounds, Brown-Turner broke out for a 14-point game, and the Pack got contributions from all over in a win to remember.

“First three quarters, yeah, I'd probably rather go get a root canal,” Moore said. “The fourth quarter obviously, when the momentum changed, the crowd was into it and all that. It got exciting. But, you know, for a coach, especially my age, I don't know how healthy that is. So I hope we don’t make a habit of it. Again, this is why you coach. This is why you play. You know, the highs, the lows. You just can't duplicate it anywhere else.”

Next up, the Pack stays at home to take on Virginia Tech, a team Moore said he believes should be ranked, on Sunday, Jan. 23. That game tips at 4 p.m. and can be viewed on the ACC Network.

“At halftime, I reminded them [that] probably about four years ago, we came in here … and sure enough, we fell down, it was either 23-1 or 25-1, I can't remember which, against Louisville,” Moore said. “It was just like, we could not hit a shot. Well, we came back with three minutes left in the game, we were down three and had the ball. We didn't win [that game], but I just reminded them at halftime, ‘You can either keep doing what you're doing and be totally embarrassed, or you can do something really special.’ And they chose to do something special.”

Managing Editor

I'm Tristan Tucker, managing editor in the class of 2022 studying Communication Media and Statistics. I joined Technician in Fall 2018 and am a credentialed NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and SB Nation.