(24) Florida State (20-3, 8-2 ACC) defeated (9) NC State (21-2, 8-2 ACC) by a 75-70 score tonight in the Tallahassee Leon County Civic Center.
The Pack got off to a fast start. NC State jumped out to an 11-2 lead with about five minutes left in the quarter after a layup from Kiara Leslie. Nicki Ekhomu answered with a jumper for FSU. However, the Wolfpack responded with a 7-2 run to take an 18-6 lead. FSU was reeling a bit but Nausia Woolfolk steadied the ship with a big three to cut the lead to 18-9. Woolfolk’s basket sparked a 10-2 Nole run to end the quarter with Florida State down four at 20-16.
FSU started the second quarter on an 8-0 run that saw Valencia Myers score five straight points. Leslie ended the run with a jumper but the Seminoles still had a 24-22 lead. From there the two teams mostly traded baskets until Ekhomu ended the half with a jumper with only a second left to give the Seminoles a 29-28 lead going into halftime.
The two teams started the third quarter by exchanging baskets. However, with the game tied Nausia Woolfolk scored five straight to give the Noles a 41-36 lead. The Pack eventually responded with a 10-2 run to take a 50-47 lead. Woolfolk then buried a long triple to tie the game at 50 at the end of the third quarter.
The fourth quarter started out tight as the teams traded buckets. For the first seven and a half minutes of the quarter neither team could get a lead greater than three points. However, at that point Florida State made a move. With about three minutes left in the game the Seminoles went on a 10-0 run to take a 72-65 lead with a minute and ten seconds left.
A bizarre sequence occurred near the end of the game. With 48.9 seconds left in the game FSU was up 72-67 after a couple of free throws from Elissa Cunane. NC State pressured the in bound pass but Kiah Gillespie was able to get it to Ekhomu. She was pressed so she passed to Woolfolk who eventually got fouled. Woolfolk went to the line and hit her first free throw. Wolfpack coach Wes Moore protested by holding up his hand apparently indicating “five”. The official went over to him but she eventually allowed Woolfolk to shoot her second free throw. Woolfolk’s free throws gave the Noles a 74-67 lead. However, Moore kept protesting and eventually the officials realized their error. It was only the fourth foul of the quarter against the Pack so FSU should not have been shooting free throws. The officials took the points off the board reducing the Seminole lead to 72-67. They gave FSU the ball out of bounds. FSU promptly turned the ball over as the inbounds pass was went to no one. The Wolfpack happily took advantage of FSU’s terrible inbounds pass. Kai Crutchfield buried a huge triple to pull the Wolfpack within two at 72-70 with about 41 seconds left.
On the ensuing possession Ekhomu drove the lane and got fouled. She nailed both free throws to put FSU up 74-70 with 17 seconds left. After a timeout the Pack turned the ball over. Sayawni Lassiter hit one of two free throws and Gillespie got the rebound to end the game and preserve a giant win for Florida State.
Nausia Woolfolk led the Noles with 22 points. Nicki Ekhomu filled the stat sheet with 20 points, five rebounds and six assists. Valencia Myers was huge in this game for FSU. She had nine points, six boards and five big blocks.
This is one of the biggest wins of the year for Florida State. Only the Iowa win in November rivals it. The Noles move up to 18th in the RPI from 21st with the win. This win is probably worth at least a seed line for the Noles.
FSU earned this victory with excellent defense. Even though NC State shot pretty well (42.6%) from the field most of the shots were contested. The Wolfpack have several players who can get their own shot and they made several tough shots with hands in their face. FSU also turned the Pack over 16 times committing only eight of their own. Those turnovers were a big key to the game.
NC State is one of the best rebounding teams in the nation and they proved that again tonight killing FSU on the boards to the tune of 44-30. It’s very surprising to see FSU get a win against such a good opponent with that kind of deficit on the glass. One of the reasons that they were able to was that they hit eight threes. The percentage (32%) wasn’t great but Florida State usually shoots 26% so this was an improvement.
Ekhomu and Woolfolk really did a great job stepping up in this game. NC State had a strategy to take away Kiah Gillespie but FSU was able to get the win anyway in large part due to the poised and fearless shot making of Ekhomu and Woolfolk.
Valencia Myers really took a major step forward in her development tonight. The freshman was up against the taller (6’5) Elissa Cunane most of the night but she was able to protect the rim, rebound and score. Cunane played well too (25 points) but Myers was able to more than hold her own. This will be important going forward because Myers and Gillespie are the only two true frontcourt players available for FSU. If they both play well that raises the ceiling for this team.
Florida State will travel to South Bend, IN on Sunday to face (4) Notre Dame (21-3, 8-2 ACC). The defending national champions were upset tonight in Miami 72-65. The game will tip at noon and will be broadcast on ESPN.