January 21, 2022 

Diamond Johnson, Jakia Brown-Turner power N.C. State to improbable win over Louisville

'The fourth quarter, obviously, when the momentum changed, the crowd was into it and all that – it got exciting,' Moore said

RALEIGH, N.C. — As she backpedaled with a measure of swagger, Jakia Brown-Turner thrusted her fists down and let out a scream. Diamond Johnson rushed up to her for a celebratory chest bump.

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Few heard Brown-Turner vocalizing her excitement though because the junior wing’s exuberance was drowned out by the fans at Reynolds Coliseum, who went from engaged to raucous on Brown-Turner’s command. Louisville’s defense – which had been incredibly disciplined for three quarters – left Brown-Turner wide-open in the left corner to double Kayla Jones in the paint. But Jones saw her teammate and flawlessly kicked the ball out. Brown-Turner rose and fired, and swished the three-pointer, sending Wolfpack fans into an absolute deafening frenzy.

The shot put an exclamation point on N.C. State’s fourth-quarter comeback. Brown-Turner’s connection extended the Wolfpack run to 24-4, a stretch that eradicated the 14-point lead the Cardinals held at the end of the third quarter. With 2:49 to play, N.C. State led 61-55.

Wes Moore’s side cruised from there. After trailing by as many as 16 points, No. 4 N.C. State came back to beat No. 3 Louisville 68-59 in front of a sold-out crowd on national television Thursday night.

“It was a great moment,” Brown-Turner said, unable to stop the large grin from growing across her face. “Especially coming back from a big deficit. That three, I think, kept us going.”

The victory was N.C. State’s fifth this season over an AP Top 25 team. For Louisville, the defeat brought an end to its 15-game winning streak, the longest in Division I women’s basketball this season.

“I just reminded them at halftime: you can keep doing what you’re doing and be totally embarrassed, or you can do something really special,” N.C. State coach Wes Moore said. “And they chose to do something special, thank goodness.”

The Diamond and Jakia Show

N.C. State’s Diamond Johnson claps after making a shot against Louisville on Jan. 20, 2022, in Raleigh, N.C. (Mitchell Northam / The Next)

Wolfpack fans should remember this one as the time that Brown-Turner and Johnson made Reynolds rise and rock. The backcourt duo – perhaps following the signature advice of N.C. State legend Jim Valvano – never gave up.

And they never stopped shooting. Heck, up until the fourth quarter, Johnson was – frankly – having an awful game, beginning it by shooting 1 of 12 from the floor. But on the tape on her left wrist, she wrote herself a message: “Nobody can stop you but you.”

“It just gives me a reminder of who I am,” Johnson said. “I knew my shot wasn’t going to be off for that long.”

Johnson couldn’t remember if there was a moment where she looked at her wrist, but Moore joked, “I looked at it a couple times.”

And so, she kept shooting.

The former All-Big Ten honoree left Rutgers and came to the Wolfpack for the chance to thrive in these moments: in a conference match-up against a top-five team on ESPN. And when it mattered most, Johnson was excellent. She made five of her next seven shots, injecting N.C. State with confidence as it embarked on that fourth-quarter run to snatch the victory away from the visiting Cardinals.

“Diamond hit some unbelievable shots,” Moore said. “It was amazing, what they were able to do… Those three-pointers – that’s our dunk in women’s basketball. You start hitting those, the crowd amps up and everybody turns it up a notch.”

Brown-Turner was crucial on that run too. She scored 10 of her 14 points in the fourth quarter and dished a pair of key assists to Johnson. Brown-Turner and Johnson combined for 24 of N.C. State’s 31 fourth-quarter points. Johnson scored 11 points for about four-and-a-half minutes.

“I definitely was in a zone,” Johnson said. “When I’m feeling it, I’m feeling it. The energy from my teammates and the crowd was just unbelievable.”

The duo kickstarted the comeback by connecting on a pair of two-point shots early in the final quarter; a lay-up from Johnson and a jumper from Brown-Turner. Then, at the 7:53 mark, Johnson cashed-in on her first three-pointer of the game, on an assist from Brown-Turner. Before that shot, N.C. State – which entered the contest leading the nation in three-point shooting with a 40.9% mark – was shooting just 1 of 13 from deep. Beginning with that bucket from Johnson, they made five of their next six shots from behind the arc.

“We gave Diamond Johnson a wide open three on the right wing,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “She was the best player on the floor in that fourth quarter. You have to tip your cap to her for the big-time plays that she made.”

In all, the Wolfpack shot 41.8% from the floor and 31.6% from three-point land. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was enough. In this game, against one of the best teams in the country, N.C. State proved it could win ugly. And it proved it could win when some of its veterans – like Raina Perez, Kai Crutchfield and Kayla Jones – don’t have their best shooting nights.

“I love playing with Diamond,” Brown-Turner said. “And what I know is – when she’s on, she’s on. Seeing her make those shots just brought extra energy.”

While Johnson and Brown-Turner were the stars in the waning moments of the game, Elissa Cunane – somehow quietly – racked up 15 points and 12 boards for her fifth double-double of the season.

Louisville’s defense was legit… for three quarters

Louisville’s Emily Engstler sizes up N.C. State on Jan. 20, 2022, in Raleigh, N.C. (Mitchell Northam / The Next)

At the start of the fourth quarter, this game sure looked like it was over. Sitting courtside, Indiana Fever coach Marianne Stanley – in the building to presumably scout a potential selection with the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming WNBA Draft – had packed up her bag and was ready to take her can of Diet Coke to-go. According to ESPN, teams who trailed by at least 14 points entering the fourth quarter had just three wins this season, compared to 1,278 losses.

But then Johnson and Brown-Turner started lighting it up. So, Stanley stuck around a bit longer.

Before N.C. State’s decisive run, Louisville had control of this game. It was smothering the Wolfpack with a mix of man-to-man, 1-3-1 and press defenses, and in-turn had largely silenced the crowd at Reynolds – save for a smattering of boos the fans reserved for the referees.

Louisville’s most impressive stretch of basketball came in the second quarter when it outscored N.C. State 16-6. That was the lowest amount of points the Wolfpack had scored in a single quarter this season. Nothing seemed to be going right for N.C. State while Louisville performed well in nearly every facet of the game.

“You got to give Louisville credit. They came in here, they were the aggressor – they just manhandled us. On the boards, every which way possible,” Moore said. “I just have so much respect for Louisville and Coach Walz. We’re good friends. They showed us some stuff they haven’t shown a whole lot this year and we had some trouble with it.

“Those first three quarters – yeah – I’d probably rather go get a root canal.”

Before the Cardinals’ fourth-quarter collapse, they were holding N.C. State to 38.7% shooting from the floor, which would’ve been its second-worst mark of the season. They were also – as previously mentioned – not allowing the nation’s top three-point shooting team to beat them from deep. N.C. State was shooting 7.6% from behind the arc before the fourth quarter, which would’ve been – by far – its worst mark of the season.

Simply put, for three quarters and change, Louisville’s defense was doing things to N.C. State that no other team had pulled off – not even South Carolina, Georgia, or Indiana.

But Louisville couldn’t hang on for the final 10 minutes. They didn’t do themselves any favors in the fourth quarter either, committing seven turnovers in the final period.

“We executed so well for three quarters,” Walz said. “And then we just kind of got away from that.

“There’s really not much to explain. They experienced it. I’ll take the blame there.”

Sophomores Strong

On the bright side for Louisville, Olivia Cochran was pretty effective on both ends of the floor against N.C. State. The sophomore post never backed down from her matchup with All-American center Cunane, even though the Wolfpack senior has about three inches on her and a whole lot more experience.

Cochran tied her career-high in scoring by posting 19 points on 8 of 12 shooting against the Wolfpack. She also tallied seven rebounds, an assist and a block in 27 minutes of play. Cochran last scored that many points on Dec. 4, 2020, in a win over DePaul.

According to Her Hoop Stats, Cochran is ninth among ACC players in PER in league games with a 27.7 mark.

Cochran wasn’t the only sophomore who played well for Louisville. Hailey Van Lith had 13 points and a team-high four assists, along with a rebound and a steal. And she also pulled this off, giving Louisville some juice heading near the end of the first quarter.

Additionally for Louisville, Emily Engstler had her fifth double-double of the season with 15 points and a team-high 11 rebounds, to go along with two assists and two steals. By bottling up Jones for most of the night, Engstler continued to make her case for the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year award.

Poll Implications

Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith drives toward the basket against N.C. State’s Raina Perez on Jan. 20, 2022, in Raleigh, N.C. (Mitchell Northam / The Next)

N.C. State is likely to at least swap places with Louisville in the next AP Top 25 Poll. But the Cardinals shouldn’t be punished for this loss too harshly. It’s just their second defeat of the season, and first since November. Louisville also has wins this season over Michigan, UConn, Kentucky and Georgia Tech.

While we should expect Louisville to remain in the top 10, N.C. State has a legitimate case to be ranked in the top three, at the very least. The Wolfpack have now beaten (listed with their then-ranking) No. 2 Maryland, No. 6 Indiana, No. 19 North Carolina, No. 16 Duke and No. 3 Louisville.

N.C. State will face more Top 25 teams this season. But Moore hopes that his squad puts the game away early next time.

“The fourth quarter, obviously, when the momentum changed, the crowd was into it and all that – it got exciting,” Moore said. “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.”

Joking aside, Moore figures that this won’t be the last time the Wolfpack see Lousiville this season.

Said Moore: “Either way, you knew this wasn’t the last chapter.”

Written by Mitchell Northam

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