The Tar Heels were once again put to the test by the Wolfpack, a team they narrowly defeated 70-66 earlier in the season, when the two teams met in Raleigh in January.
Guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt matched her season and career-high, scoring 24 points, while center Waltiea Rolle’s doube-double (21 points, 11 rebounds) contribution, her fifth of the season, and forward Xylina McDaniel’s work in the paint (15 points, 9 rebounds), provided the Tar Heels with the boost they needed to top the Wolfpack once again.
Pack takes the half
After the opening tip, it was guards Marissa Kastanek (17 points, 5 rebounds), Len’Nique Brown (15 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists), and Krystal Barrett (10 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists) who led the Wolfpack in fighting and clawing their way to assume a narrow 33-32 lead at halftime.
After the Tar Heels took an early 11-6 lead, Kastanek and Brown went to work to even the score while both teams battled and played tough defense at both ends of the court.
“We knew that they were gonna’ fight hard, and it would be a great game,” North Carolina head coach Sylvia Hatchell said.
“State’s very aggressive, they’ve got a good team.”
The Wolfpack wasn’t fazed by North Carolina’s full court press and trap, breaking it often and moving the ball into the offensive set to build up its lead to as many as five points with less than four minutes to play.
“I thought that we showed signs of being a little bit tired," Hatchell continued.
"We didn’t have the pep in our step like we had Friday night. That’s why we came out in presses because I was wanting us to save our energy for more half court defense and all.”
However, as much as the Wolfpack was threatening to increase its lead, it was Ruffin-Pratt and Rolle who kept the Tar Heels close and brought them to within a point by the end of the half.
Both Ruffin-Pratt and Rolle stepped up their intensity while NC State increased its lead and held the Tar Heels at a distance for the first six minutes of the second half, leading 43-39.
The Tar Heels then got a critical infusion of energy from guard Danielle Butts whose defensive tenacity created turnover opportunities that led her to score her entire six points for the game in just under two minutes, and set North Carolina on track to stage a comeback.
“These guys took over when we needed them to,” Hatchell said of her two seniors.
With State leading 47-46 as the under-twelve minute media timeout approached, Rolle was fouled.
Coming out of the break, the six-foot-six-inch center went to the free throw line, evened the score with her first shot, and then gave North Carolina a 48-47 lead with 9:46 left to play.
As the Wolfpack struggled to keep pace from the field, shooting 30 percent during the second half, the Tar Heels went on a 13-6 run led by Rolle and Ruffin-Pratt that provided enough of a cushion to eventually secure the win.
“It’s tough when you lose an emotional game,” NC State head coach Kellie Harper said of her team’s effort.
“I want them to pour it all out there. Win or lose, you can sure walk away from it better, if you poured it all out there. As long as we’re playin’ hard and fightin’, we’ll just live to fight another day.”