The North Carolina State Wolfpack (18-10, 9-6 ACC) is a team that is squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble. The Pack's best win was a 65-62 victory over Duke that doesn't look nearly as good after the Blue Devils have slid without star forward Azura Stevens. The Wolfpack has been close in a couple of recent games. They lost to (#18) Syracuse by three and (#10) Louisville by two. The problem in those games has been an inability to finish and close their opponent out. A win tonight against (#12) Florida State would have easily been their best of the season but that old problem reared its ugly head again as FSU scored nine of the game's final 13 points to escape Raleigh with a 56-52 victory.
This was not the prettiest of games as the teams combined for 39 turnovers (FSU had 18) but Florida State gutted out the win. The game got off to a rough start for FSU as the Noles missed their first five shots before Adut Bulgak (15pts, 8reb) broke the ice with a layup. The first quarter was close throughout but the Seminoles were never able to grab a lead. The Pack took a five point lead into the second quarter on the strength of a Jennifer Mathurin (16pts, 5reb) three in the closing seconds.
In the second quarter the game remained close but the Noles could never take a lead until Shakayla Thomas (19pts, 4reb) scored to put the Noles ahead 21-20 with five minutes left in the half. From there the two teams mostly traded baskets until a pair of DD Rogers (6pts, 5reb) free throws gave the Wolfpack a 26-24 halftime lead.
Mathurin started the second half with a three for the Pack but FSU responded with a 9-0 run that was sparked by a Leticia Romero (15pts, 4ast) jumper to put FSU up 33-29. NC State fought back and tied the game 40-40 at the end of the quarter on another jumper from Mathurin.
The Pack started the fourth quarter with a layup from Dominique Wilson(11pts) and they took a lead that they would enjoy for most of the quarter. Florida State kept the deficit small (the Noles never trailed by more than three) but FSU was never able to take a lead. Then Leticia Romero stepped up. The junior point guard hit the biggest shot of the season to date when she nailed a corner three to put the Noles up for good 52-49 with 1:15 left in the game. After that shot Chelsea Nelson missed a jumper for the Pack and Bulgak got the rebound and Romero capitalized with a layup at the other end. With nine seconds left in the game Ivey Slaughter hit two pressure free throws to give FSU their final four point margin of victory.
As we discussed this game was not a masterpiece. The Noles survived relatively poor shooting (34.9%) as well as too many turnovers to get the win. FSU benefited from NC State's own shooting struggles (31.4%, 4-21 3PT). The Noles also won the rebounding battle (again) 41-37. They did that without Kai James who missed the game with a head injury. James is listed as day to day.
Good teams can win even when not playing their best and FSU accomplished that tonight. It's even more impressive that they did it on the road against a (probable) NCAA Tournament team. Thomas was her usual aggressive self offensively taking 21 shots (making nine) and that is what FSU needs. Another good sign is that Romero was second on the team with 11 shots (making six). The Seminoles will benefit if Romero becomes more assertive. She needs to play big if FSU is to advance deep in the postseason.
Florida State really needed this game to stay in the top four of the ACC which is important for the double-bye and in the top four projected seeds for the NCAA Tournament which is important to get home games in the first two rounds. It's also nice to get a win after two straight losses.
Florida State welcomes the (#17) Miami Hurricanes (22-6, 10-5 ACC) to the TLCCC on Sunday, February 28 at 3pm (ESPN 2).