N.C. State head coach Kellie Harper gives her team last-second instructions against Miami. CHUCK LIDDY - firstname.lastname@example.org
GREENSBORO -- Not this time.
The N.C. State women’s basketball team dug a hole too deep and just couldn’t will its way to another courageous victory, falling 93-85 on Friday night to No. 2 seed Miami in the quarterfinals of the ACC women’s basketball tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum.
A night before, the Wolfpack (14-17) had fought back for an improbable win over No. 7 Boston College in the opening round. This time, down by 19 points in the first half, the Pack rallied, twice tying the score in the second half, yet were undone in the final minutes by a team with perhaps the best backcourt in the conference.
Miami’s duo of Shenise Johnson and Riquna Williams, lived up to their billing, making critical buckets down the stretch and combining for 47 points.
Johnson, the ACC player of the year, made a layup with 42 seconds remaining to give her team a six-point lead. Twenty seconds later, Williams made two free throws that finally quashed State’s comeback hopes.
“I take losing hard,” State coach Kellie Harper said. “Our team takes it hard, too, especially when it’s our last game. It’s really hard for the seniors. ... The kids fought hard. I told the kids in the locker room that they really defined our program this year, defined it in a positive way. N.C. State is going to fight.”
Working back into the game, the Pack turned to junior forward Bonae Holston, who tried to lift her team into the semifinals, knocking down midrange jump shots and grabbing rebounds. She finished with a hard-earned double-double of 25 points and 11 rebounds.
State senior Brittany Strachan converted a layup and was fouled with 12:33 remaining. She was fouled and her free throw tied the game for the first time at 60-60. The Pack had its chances but could not make the necessary defensive stops to derail the Hurricanes, who kept attacking the basket and went to the free throw line.
“We watch film,” Miami coach Katie Meier said. “I was very clear with my team and very clear with my staff – we weren’t going to start subbing and playing for tomorrow. Because this is the last team that you play for tomorrow against. They are as tough as nails.”
Miami (27-3) moves into the semifinals of the ACC tournament for the first time in school history. The Hurricanes will face the winner of No. 3 Florida State and No. 6 North Carolina.
The Hurricanes finished the regular season with a 12-2 conference record and shared the regular-season conference title with top-seeded Duke – also a first for the program.
In Meier’s sixth season, the Hurricanes produced an unbelievable one-season turnabout, finishing 12th in the conference last season and working their way to the top of the standings.
Meier was rewarded with the conference’s coach of the year award.
“We had no tradition when we came here,” Johnson said. “Me and Riquna are definitely setting tradition here with these freshmen. ... It’s been an exciting ride.”
Johnson finished with a team-high 25 points and 13 rebounds, while Williams chipped in 22 and six assists.
For State, losers of so many close games this season, the season likely comes to an end.
Seniors Amber White and Strachan reflected on a lesson they learned from for coach Kay Yow. It’s a message they hope future players take heed.
“Never give up, no matter what you’re going through as a team, just know that if you keep fighting and you keep working hard good things will come to you,” Strachan said. “We don’t ever want somebody to come in this program and to give up. Even if you’re down 30, down 40, injuries or whatever ... stay committed to the program.”