N.C. State's Kody Burke celebrates the Wolfpack's 66-59 win over No. 20 Vanderbilt with teammate Erica Donovan. LIZ CONDO - newsobserver.com
RALEIGH – N.C. State women’s basketball coach Kellie Harper grew up a Vanderbilt football fan. Her mother lives in Tennessee and still roots for the Commodores.
But State’s coach put childhood allegiances aside on Sunday as her team knocked off No. 20 Vanderbilt with a 66-59 victory at Reynolds Coliseum.
“Merry Christmas,” Harper said to the announced crowd of 2,132 after the Wolfpack (7-3) escaped with an upset win over the previously undefeated Commodores (10-1).
It was State's first home victory over a ranked non-conference opponent since a 74-58 win over No. 18 Old Dominion on Nov. 26, 2001.
“They were more aggressive, more physical,” Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb said of State. “They took us off our cuts. They outrebounded us. They went to the free throw line more than us. And in every category they did more than us.”
The Pack took control of the game early in the first half and steadily built its lead, bolstered by the strong performance of sophomore center Kody Burke and senior forward Bonae Holston.
Burke found her range outside and powered inside, finishing with a career-high 21 points. Holston, the team’s leading scorer, added 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
The Pack led by as many as 14 points in the second half, yet needed to hold off the Commodores over the final five minutes. The Pack led 58-50 with 5:33 remaining.
Vanderbilt cut State's lead to 62-59 with 35 second left after sophomore guard Christina Foggie hit two 3-pointers to pull her team back into the contest.
But State made its free throws as Vanderbilt was forced to foul down the stretch. Holston knocked down two free throws, then senior guard Emili Tasler drained two more.
This season the Pack has struggled from the free throw line – shooting 59.4 percent as a team – and Holston was only making 42.9 percent. She had taken extra shots in practice, working on hand placement on the ball. It took a long time the other day to knock down 25 free throws, but she walked confidently to the line on Sunday.
“I just tried to block everything out and focus on one free throw at a time,” Holston said. “I know I’ve been shooting them flat. My fingers don’t feel normal on the ball. So that’s what I concentrate on and make sure I have some arc on the ball. And both of them went in.”
State shot 73.7 percent from the line.
Vanderbilt was forced to play without back-up point guard Maggie Morrison who injured her knee in practice on Saturday. The Commodores were also without Foggie, the team’s leading scorer, for a six-minute stretch of the second half. She picked up her fourth foul at the 10:38 mark.
Foggie had scored 20 points or more in the past five games, including a career high 26 two games before Sunday.
Vanderbilt was the first ranked team to play at Reynolds since No. 22 Brigham Young in 2002.
State finished 1-6 against ranked teams last season.
Harper said she proud of the way the team collected itself after falling to Richmond on Thursday in an uninspired performance. The team met on Friday and the coaching staff set out to correct offensive errors that were exposed against the Spiders.
“It definitely re-focused us,” Harper said. “You saw a very motivated group today.”
Burke, who had five points and four rebounds against Richmond, opened the game with a 3-pointer and a mid-range jumper.
“Sometimes I feel you need to play a bad game to really learn how to be a better player,” Burke said. “I went home after Richmond just crying. I knew that I didn’t play my best, I din’t play smart, wasn’t patient at all, trying to force my own shot.”
“I just learned to be patient,” she said. “With patience, my shot actually fell. I just have to be more confident overall.”