December 5, 2020 

ACC notebook: N.C. State gets a program-defining win over South Carolina

In the notebook, Clemson and Virginia Tech improve to 4-0

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N.C. State’s Kayla Jones drives against UNC at Reynolds Coliseum on Jan. 27, 2020. (Mitchell Northam / The Next)

The odds were not in N.C. State’s favor Thursday.

They were going on the road to face South Carolina, the No. 1 team in women’s college basketball, which hadn’t lost a game in over a year. The Gamecocks are armed with top recruits at every position, and anchored by last season’s national freshman of the year, Aliyah Boston.

On top of that, the No. 8 Wolfpack hadn’t beat a top-ranked team since 2007 and were 2-17 all-time against AP No. 1’s. And they were playing the game without a starter, as sophomore Jada Boyd was ruled out before tip-off with a knee injury.

But the Wolfpack channeled Han Solo and disregarded the odds. They played with the toughness of whalebone and hell, mucked the game up and came away with an unlikely 54-46 victory that will be etched in the program’s history books. For a program like N.C. State that has been working toward breaking into the sport’s upper echelon, the result meant more than just a regular season win.

Following the game, after he had been soaked by a locker-room celebration, an emotional Wes Moore told his players: “It’s early in the year. This isn’t the ACC tournament or whatever. But you showed you can beat anybody in the country.”

Indeed, the Wolfpack did things to the Gamecocks that no team had done in a long while.

In addition to their 29-game win streak ending, the Gamecocks hadn’t been held to 46 points or less at Colonial Life Arena since a 2008 loss to Clemson. South Carolina’s 27% shooting mark from the floor was its worst in a single game since a 2013 game at Florida.

Both teams emphasized defense and struggled on offense. But when it mattered, N.C. State made the big shots it needed to make to secure the win. Like Raina Perez’s go-ahead three-pointer with about three minutes to play, and Kayla Jones’ top-of-the key trey with 27 seconds left that put the Wolfpack ahead by two possessions.

Kayla Jones was incredible

Before the game began, N.C. State assistant coach Erin Batth went to Jones and said, “You have to play tonight. Be that leader.”

The senior forward responded in a crucial way, leading all scorers with 16 points while also tallying 12 rebounds, two assists and a block. Jones is typically a supporting player for the Wolfpack, doing a lot of important dirty work that doesn’t show up in the box score. On Thursday, she got her chance to shine and seized it.

“I took on that role. And I knew that my team needed me and I was ready to compete with them,” Jones said. “My coach said I had to step up. Usually I take the backseat and dish the ball and do the little things to get the W. I feel like the game came to me.”

Jones, a 6-foot-1 native of Jamesville, N.C., has been a regular and reliable contributor for the Wolfpack since she was a sophomore. Thursday might’ve been the best game of her career.

“I’m just so proud of her,” Moore said of Jones. “She has knee pain about every day and for her to go out there and play that kind of game and those kind of minutes, it’s just amazing.”

Cunane vs. Boston didn’t live up to the hype

Heading into the game between the Wolfpack and the Gamecocks, all eyes were on the paint. Folks wanted to see who would win the battle of the All-American bigs between Elissa Cunane and Aliyah Boston.

But in the end, the match-up fell short of expectations.

Boston, a preseason All-American and last season’s Leslie Award winner, finished with nine rebounds and nine points on 4-of-14 shooting. Cunane, a candidate for ACC Player of the Year, had 14 points on 3-of-13 shooting. She did the majority of her scoring at the charity stripe, going 8-of-8 from there. Cunane added six rebounds and four blocks too.

But the game wasn’t really decided by those two players and neither played up to their full potential.

“I didn’t think any of them played well. I didn’t think any of them played as well as we know them to play,” Gamecocks’ head coach Dawn Staley said. “I’m sorry, but the match-up didn’t live up to it. I think we probably put basketball back a few years… Somebody had to win. (N.C. State) won the battle of bad basketball.”

When will we see Jada Boyd again?

It remains unclear how severe Jada Boyd’s injury is and when she suffered it. The team announced it just 37 minutes before tip-off and Boyd made the trip to Columbia with the team.

Boyd had started in N.C. State’s first two games of the season and scored double-digits in each one. She could’ve helped against the Gamecocks with her explosiveness, versatility and ability to defend multiple positions. The Wolfpack will need her in ACC play too, but a timetable for her return hasn’t been set.

“We lost Jada Boyd this week. I don’t know for how long,” Moore said. “It’s always disappointing. And we’re hopeful that Jada can come back this season, but we just don’t know yet.”

In Boyd’s place, graduate transfer Raina Perez was thrusted into the starting lineup and didn’t disappoint. The former Big West Player of the Year had 11 points, four rebounds and four assists, and didn’t have a single turnover in 37 minutes of running the point.

“It’s a blessing to have her here,” Moore said of Perez. “She’s such a smart player. She’s a pro. She prepares, she’s focused. Another one that I’m real proud of.”

With or without Boyd, N.C. State will move up in the AP Top 25 rankings next week. And heading into ACC play, they’ll have a target on their backs. Not just because they won the conference tournament last season, but also because they just dethroned one of the best teams in the country.

ACC extras

  • Miami’s game against Stetson – scheduled for Sunday – has been canceled due to positive COVID-19 cases within the Hatters’ program. The Hurricanes wrapped up their non-conference slate on Thursday, beating FAU 73-61. Katie Meier’s 3-0 side opens its ACC slate at home on Dec. 10, hosting No. 22 Syracuse.

  • Meier said this leading up to the Canes’ game vs. FAU: “We do not have that one dominant player who, no matter who is guarding them, is going to score anyway. But that is okay because I love our basketball IQ. We have a team that is willing to share the ball and make the extra pass, which is so important because when you have a team where everybody is capable of double-figures, it will depend on the matchups.”

  • Kelsey Marshall has been a standout contributor for the Canes so far, averaging 18.6 points, four rebounds, 2.6 assists and a steal per-game while shooting 38.4% from three-point land.

  • As many have seen on Twitter, 6-foot-7 Syracuse freshman Kamilla Cardoso – among many of her other talents – can dunk. Will she do it in a game this season? Cardoso said this on a Zoom call this past week: “I’ve never dunked before in a game. I’ve tried, but I missed. I’m looking forward to doing it again. It’s very important for me. It’s such a big thing.”

  • Pitt picked up a local recruit for its 2022 class this past week, getting a verbal commitment from Aislin Malcolm of Carnegie, PA. A 5-foot-10 guard, Malcolm is rated as a three-star recruit by ESPN and is ranked as the 24th best guard in her class. She chose Pitt over Penn State, Boston College and Northwestern, and also held offers from Duke, Duquesne, Richmond, Davidson, Princeton and Penn. Through two seasons of high school basketball at Chartiers Valley, she has never lost a game, going 57-0.

  • Clemson improved to 4-0 to start the season Thursday by beating Mercer 67-54. Kendall Spray and Delicia Washington combined for 30 points, 13 rebounds, three steals and two assists in the win. Head coach Amanda Butler had this to say after the game: “I’m really proud of our team. I was very concerned about this game because Mercer’s a really good team with outstanding guards… I’m really pleased with our scoring balance. We had pretty good rebounding balance, as well… Being able to make those adjustments that we made in the second half was a big step forward for us.”

  • Elizabeth Kitley tied a Cassell Coliseum record Friday with 14 made field goals as she scored 30 points in Virginia Tech’s 84-59 win over Appalachian State. Kitley also added 11 rebounds and five blocks. The sophomore has four double-doubles to start the season and the Hokies are 4-0. For the first time ever, Virginia Tech has scored more than 80 points in each of its first four games of a season.

  • Boston College picked up a 2022 commitment from guard Taina Mair on Friday. She also had offers from Miami, Ole Miss, Xavier, UMass, James Madison, Providence, Army, Holy Cross, Rhode Island and George Washington.

Written by Mitchell Northam

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