April 6, 2024 

NC State’s party-crashing run ends in Final Four loss to South Carolina

The self-proclaimed 'party crashers' won't get to eat any cake this weekend

CLEVELAND — The balloons have burst and the decorations were tossed back into the closet for the NC State Wolfpack, the self-proclaimed “party crashers.” 

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But they didn’t get to eat the cake. 

The feast belongs to South Carolina, which remained undefeated after a 78-59 victory that earned it a trip to the national title game. 

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But the Wolfpack weren’t expected to be here. In the preseason poll, they were picked to finish eighth in the ACC. They hadn’t made a Final Four appearance since 1998, so head coach Wes Moore was happy to be the surprise team in Cleveland. 

“We’ve had an unbelievable season,” Moore said after the loss. “I’m proud of these young ladies, the run we’ve been on. This stinks to end it this way. But I’m sure after we’ve had a little bit of time away from it and can reflect, we have a lot to be proud of.”

It wasn’t the ending the Wolfpack hoped for, but it was one that every other team has faced at the hands of Dawn Staley and the now 37-0 Gamecocks this season. 

NC State head coach Wes Moore looks out on the court. His left hand is loosely resting on his hip, while is right hand is balled into a fist against his waist.
NC State head coach Wes Moore looks out on the court during a Final Four game against South Carolina at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio, on April 5, 2024. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra | The Next)

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The Wolfpack came out strong in the first half and only trailed by one point after 20 minutes. But in the second half, the Gamecocks depth led them to a quick surge, which they sustained in the eventual blowout victory. 

With just three minutes left in the third quarter, NC State had lost all momentum. The Pack trailed by 17 points after keeping it close for the entirety of the first half. Moore was getting frustrated, yelling at his players to “play smart” on every defensive possession, putting his palm to his face with discontent on several occasions.

“I give [South Carolina] credit,” Moore said. “They turned up the heat and did a great job defensively. Like I said, they came out really aggressive. The pick-and-roll we didn’t do a good job of getting up and doing what we wanted to do against it. And we looked slow. We looked flatfooted.”

Staley had too many options, too much depth to throw at the Wolfpack. She ran a nine-player rotation, while NC State had only six players log more than seven minutes. South Carolina sophomore Ashlyn Watkins, who’s started only 10 games this season and averaged 7.1 rebounds per game, grabbed 20 boards in the win.

As NC State trailed 22 points with just 6:52 remaining in the game, fifth-year forward Mimi Collins looked around at her teammates during a timeout and pleaded. 

“Guys, we need stops,” she said with desperation evident in her voice. 

But it was too far gone. This would be her final game.

NC State's Aziaha James shoots a left-handed jump shot as South Carolina guard MiLaysia Fulwiley contests with her left hand.
NC State’s Aziaha James (10) takes a jumper during a Final Four matchup against South Carolina at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio, on April 5, 2024. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra | The Next)

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A Final Four appearance was something that no one expected the Wolfpack to achieve this season. The players will treasure the memory of this run forever, not just because of the doubt they faced heading into this year, but because of each other and what this season meant for each one of them. 

“I’m going to keep this memory forever,” Aziaha James, who finished the night with a team-high 20 points, said with emotion. “I love this group of girls forever. These are my sisters. And I’m so proud of them. So much hard work to get here. We left everything on the court each game, and I’m so grateful to have them. I’m so grateful to have Coach Moore.”

“I wouldn’t trade my two years in Raleigh for anything,” River Baldwin added through tears. “I found a family here, a true family. They gave me confidence. They made me fall in love with the game again.”

In 2022, NC State reached the Elite Eight. In 2024, they made it to the Final Four. Moore and the Wolfpack lost on Friday night, but they are hoping it’s just the beginning. 

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Written by Talia Goodman

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