N.C. State returns to action, rallies past Virginia Tech

NCAA Basketball

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP)Kai Crutchfield scored 10 of her 20 points in the last 4 1/2 minutes, Jakia Brown-Turner finished with 23 points and No. 2 North Carolina State rallied from 14 points down in the fourth quarter to remain undefeated, beating Virginia Tech 89-87 on Sunday.

Kayla Jones, who made two free throws at the 15-second mark, tallied 22 points for N.C. State (11-0, 6-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), which was coming off a three-week layoff.

”We’ve got some players who in crunch time can make some plays,” N.C. State coach Wes Moore said. ”It was touch-and-go, for sure. . We’re going to take this win. I know it was a comeback win and all that.”

The Wolfpack hadn’t played since Jan. 3. The lone absence related to a coronavirus test or contract tracing was a big one, with standout center Elissa Cunane missing the game. She is likely out for at least the next game, also against the Hokies.

”Hopefully getting this game under our belt will help those who’ve been in protocol,” Moore said.

Georgia Amoore’s 3-pointer with 4.4 seconds to play for Virginia Tech cut the gap to 88-87 before Raina Perez hit a free throw for the Wolfpack. A heave from near midcourt was well off the mark.

Sophomore center Elizabeth Kitley matched a career high with 30 points and grabbed 13 rebounds and Aisha Sheppard added 24 points for Virginia Tech (7-7, 2-7).

”I really think that we executed our game plan to the T,” Sheppard said. ”It just kind of got away from us those last few minutes.”

Back-to-back 3-pointers from Crutchfield trimmed the gap to 81-76 with 3:28 to play, igniting what became a 16-0 run.

Crutchfield’s steal and layoff off Virginia Tech’s next possession followed by Brown-Turner’s 3 tied the game. Crutchfield gave N.C. State the lead for keeps with two foul shots with 1:41 remaining.

”We had fight,” Crutchfield said. ”We fought to the end.”

In a four-minute span of the third quarter, the Hokies wiped out a 10-point hole to go up 56-53.

The gap grew to 69-59 by the end of the quarter.

Virginia Tech’s 10-0 run that involved the third and fourth quarters pushed the margin to 73-59 before N.C. State rallied.

”We kicked up our defense and we started to press, which caused them to take quick shots,” Brown-Turner said. ”It took us a while to get back in the rhythm.”

Virginia Tech led 24-17 by the end of the first quarter as Cayla King and Sheppard each provided nine points. King’s 3-pointer – her fourth of the game — stretched the lead to start the second quarter.

The Wolfpack was up 37-36 on Jones’ 3-pointer at the second-quarter’s 4:01 mark. It was the team’s fifth 3 of the quarter. The Hokies scored only three points in the final 4:20 of the first half, falling into a 47-41 hole at the break.

COPING WITHOUT CUNANE

Redshirt sophomore Jada Rice made her first career start as N.C. State adjusted its lineup.

”You can’t fill the Elissa Cunane void with one player,” Moore said. ”They all contributed.”

Cunane, who shoots 58.2 percent from the field, is averaging team-bests of 16.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.

Moore said Cunane doesn’t have severe symptoms and it’s hopeful she can return by the beginning of February.

”We’re fortunate, she’s not feeling too bad,” he said.

THREE AT A TIME

The teams combined for 26 successful 3-point shots, the most in any N.C. State game this season. In the Wolfpack’s ACC games, there had been no more than 18 3s in a game.

Sheppard’s first of four 3s gave her the Virginia Tech program’s career 3-point record. She started the game with 269, tied with Vanessa Panousis.

”Right now it’s hard to kind of think about it because we just lost,” Sheppard said.

Virginia Tech entered the game averaging 9.8 3-pointers per game, but made 12. The Hokies had surrendered 5.8 good 3s per game, but the Wolfpack had nine of its 14 by halftime.

Minus Cunane, the Wolfpack attacked from the perimeter. Crutchfield, Brown-Turner and Jones all posted four 3s in the game.

BIG PICTURE

Virginia Tech: The Hokies have dropped six of their last seven games. They reached the 70-point mark in only one of those games prior to Sunday.

N.C. State: The Wolfpack made 14 of 29 attempts from 3-point range for a season-high point total from beyond the arc. It marked the team’s most 3s since 11 in the season opener vs. North Florida.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech: Thursday vs. N.C. State for the start of a three-game homestand.

N.C. State: Thursday at Virginia Tech for what will be its lone January road game and the first of three straight away from home, a stretch that includes a visit to No. 1 Louisville on Feb. 1.

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