In a top-six Big Ten/ACC Challenge matchup, the No. 2 NC State women’s basketball team avenged last year’s NCAA tournament loss to Indiana, beating the No. 6 Hoosiers 66-58 on Thursday, Dec. 2.
The Wolfpack (7-1) started the game sloppily, committing 11 first-half turnovers, but big second half performances from graduate forward Kayla Jones and sophomore guard Diamond Johnson helped the Pack hold off the Hoosiers (5-2) for a second top-10 win of the season.
“What can I say? U-G-L-Y, we ain't got no alibi,” said head coach Wes Moore. “It was ugly, okay? But proud of this team. Proud of the way they battled. They really flipped some numbers in the second half.”
Johnson was the slightly more prolific of the dynamic second-half duo, scoring 19 compared to Jones’ 17, but Jones came up with some big baskets and mature plays when the Pack needed one of its veterans to step up.
One of those instances for Jones was during the Pack’s 12-3 run to end the third quarter. The run gave NC State a four-point lead heading into the fourth and Jones scored seven of the 12 points.
All 17 of Jones’ points came after halftime and the grad student added 11 rebounds to earn her first double double of the season.
After taking that lead late in the third quarter, the Wolfpack never fell behind again, winning the fourth quarter 28-24 to seal the win. Graduate guard Raina Perez did her part in the fourth quarter, going 6 for 6 from the line in the final frame. Perez scored 10 of her 13 points in the second half.
“You go with whoever you think is most comfortable and confident stepping up there and Raina has been really good at that,” Moore said. “And obviously after you hit a couple you just keep going with it. And she did a nice job with it. We had some others obviously that knocked them down as well.”
The Wolfpack jumped out to an early 5-0 lead, but turnovers, foul troubles and overall sloppy play stopped the Pack from extending its lead and allowed Indiana to take a narrow 23-21 lead into halftime.
Senior center Elissa Cunane had six of the Pack’s first-quarter points, but an early foul limited her minutes in the quarter and she picked up an early second foul in the second quarter. Junior center Camille Hobby, who is usually the player to replace Cunane in those situations, picked up her third foul shortly after.
“We were in a lot of foul trouble and had to adjust a little bit,” Moore said. “Second half, maybe we did a little better job of it. But it was tough. Both our post players picked up a couple of fouls there in the first half and I thought [freshman center] Sophie Hart did really well in the couple of minutes she got out there. Defensively [she] was solid and handled the pressure. So that's a good sign.”
With Cunane playing just seven first-half minutes due to her fouls, Johnson stepped up big off the bench with 10 first-half points to keep the Pack in the game.
Last season, the Hoosiers sent the Wolfpack home in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament so this time around, the Wolfpack had some extra motivation. Jones missed that meeting last season after suffering an injury earlier in the tournament.
“Going in we all felt that it was personal,” Jones said. “And for me, I just felt like all the rehab and everything has paid off. ... I was excited for sure and with how hype my team was going into this game, I felt like I needed to bring the energy too.
Since losing its opener to unanimous No. 1 South Carolina, the Wolfpack has been on a tear. With seven straight wins, two of which over top-10 teams, the Pack is riding high.
It will look to extend that winning streak on Sunday, Dec. 5 with a home matchup against Elon. Opening tip is set for 2 p.m.