GREENSBORO – The N.C. State women's basketball team had Florida State right where it wanted.
The ninth-seeded Wolfpack, rallying in the second half and drawing the game within two points with three minutes to play, thrive in tight games, especially in the ACC tournament.
So it was no surprise to anyone that the plucky Pack (17-14, 5-11 ACC) pulled out another upset in the first round on Thursday, claiming an improbable 74-71 victory over the eighth-seeded Seminoles at Greensboro Coliseum.
“Our team is pretty proud right now,” said N.C. State coach Kellie Harper, whose intrepid group shot themselves back from a 10-point first-half deficit and kept making plays despite the reality of the scoreboard.
In the end, the Pack needed a season-high and ACC tournament school-record 11 3-pointers to get by the Seminoles (14-17, 6-10).
The Pack moves into the quarterfinals today against top-seeded Duke (RSN, 3 p.m.).
In its final regular season game, the Pack fell to Maryland, dropping its sixth ACC game in seven contest. The league tournament offered a change of environment for a team struggling with inconsistency and searching for identity.
But here the Pack understands who it is and relishes in its underdog role. This was the third consecutive season that a N.C. State team overcame a halftime deficit of five or more points in a tournament game.
“They see us as an underdog,” N.C. State sophomore point guard Myisha Goodwin-Coleman said. “We just showed those people out there that we can win. We found a way to win.”
In particular, senior forward Bonae Holston found senior guard Emili Tasler open on the right wing.
Setting her feet and stroking cleanly, Tasler drilled a 3-pointer with one minute, 23 seconds left to put her team ahead 72-71.
“I heard people counting down,” said Tasler, who is finally healthy after five leg surgeries during her five-year career. “I was confident. It went in. It just felt good.”
The Pack needed defense and rebounding from there. On its next offensive possession, Goodwin-Coleman snaked in side for a layup to put the Pack up by three points with 43.2 seconds remaining.
“I saw an opening,” she said. “My teammate in front of me had [Florida State forward Cierra] Bravard buried in the paint. I saw a layup.”
Florida State, which played nearly flawless in the first half and shot 63.6 percent from the field, committed a turnover on a pass out of bounds on its next possession.
With eight seconds remaining, Tasler secured the game’s final rebound and passed ahead to junior guard Marissa Kastanek, who fittingly held the ball as the clock expired.
On the day she was named the conference’s Kay Yow scholar athlete of the year, Kastanek scored a team-high 21 points in 36 minutes.
N.C. State senior Bonae Holston added her eighth double-double of the season – 15 points and 12 rebounds – while Goodwin-Coleman contributed 16 points and seven assists.
“We do talk about the tournament being important,” said Harper, whose team shot a season-best 50 percent from the field. “More so than what we say is what we do. The way we coach we seem to be peaking late and I think our kids are very comfortable and confident coming into a tournament.”
Harper is now 5-2 all-time in the ACC tournament during her third year. The Seminoles, however, have struggled during the league event and are 6-21 overall in tournament games.
The Seminoles had defeated N.C. State 67-64 on Jan 27 and won five consecutive in the series. They received a dazzling performance from senior guard Alexa Deluzio, who finished with 26 points in 38 minutes. Undeterred, the Pack kept matching Deluzio’s best.
Asked about motivation, Kastanek, a psychology major with a 4.0 grade point average, said players wanted to keep playing to avoid school today.
“We wanted to be here playing basketball,” she said. “We already told our teachers that’s where we’re going to be. So we can’t be liars, you know. We are still going to be here.”
Harper added, “Please remember that that first statement came from the scholar athlete of the year.”
“You need a break every once in while,” Kastanek responded.