No. 2 North Carolina State women hold off Syracuse, 68-61

ACC Basketball

Syracuse guard Tiana Mangakahia (4) is fouled by NC State forward Jada Boyd (5) during an NCAA college basketball game in Syracuse N.Y., Sunday, Feb 28, 2021. (Dennis Nett/The Post-Standard via AP)

Touchdown Friday

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — North Carolina State won its regular-season finale, but this time it wasn’t so easy.

Elissa Cunane had 17 points and nine rebounds, Jada Boyd added 16 points and 10 boards and the second-ranked Wolfpack held off Syracuse 68-61 on Sunday for their fifth consecutive win.

N.C. State took a 51-38 lead into the fourth quarter but watched it disappear in a flash as the Orange went on a 20-4 run and seemed poised for the upset on Senior Day. Cunane’s 3-point play gave N.C. State the lead back, 60-58, with just over two minutes to play and Boyd’s follow in the final minute after one of Syracuse’s 11 blocks helped seal the win.

North Carolina State had won its previous four games by 19 points or more.

“It was a rough day to me,” N.C. State coach Wes Moore said. “That’s what it’s all about. You have good days, you have bad days. We did the little things and found a way to win.”

The Wolfpack (17-2, 12-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) handed Syracuse (12-7, 9-7) its first loss of the season in the Carrier Dome.

The game had special meeting for both teams because it was part of the Play4Kay campaign. The Orange donned pink uniforms to honor former N.C. State coach Kay Yow, who died in 2009 after a 22-year fight with breast cancer. It also marked the first time Orange star guard Tiana Mangakahia wore the pink uniform since she was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2019 and missed all of last season after a bilateral mastectomy and several rounds of chemotherapy.

Before tipoff, the Wolfpack presented Mangakahia with a trophy for courage, and even though her final home game didn’t turn out the way she had hoped, the 25-year-old Australian was touched.

“It’s just been such a journey,” Mangakahia said. “I just felt grateful. It was emotional, reflecting on what I went through and just thinking about all the people that are going through what I had to go through. I just wanted to play hard. I didn’t have my best game but was thankful that I could play.”

Mangakahia entered the game averaging 7.6 assists to lead the nation and finished with five to boost her career total to 726 assists in three seasons. Kiara Lewis led the Orange with 29 points and Mangakahia had 10.

After a tight first half that saw neither team lead by more than five points, the Wolfpack put together a 13-0 run that broke a 36-all tie and put them seemingly in command. Cunane started it with a pair of free throws, Raina Perez followed with a 3-point play off a fast break and Jakia Brown-Turner scored on a fast-break layup for a 43-36 lead late in the third quarter.

Consecutive 3-point plays by freshman center Kamilla Cardoso and Priscilla Williams keyed the late Orange spurt as the Wolfpack went cold against the press. Maeva Djaldi-Tabdi’s layup with 6:11 left pulled the Orange to within 53-49 and Lewis followed with a layup and a 3 from the left wing to give Syracuse the lead.

Boyd’s short baseline jumper, Cunane’s 3-point play and Boyd’s layup in the final minute gave N.C. State a 62-58 lead, and Perez hit six free throws in a row in the final minute, finishing with 11 points, six assists and zero turnovers.

TIP-INS

The game pitted North Carolina State’s 6-foot-5 Cunane against the Orange’s 6-7 freshman center Cardoso (14.9). Syracuse’s leading scorer was held scoreless before halftime, missing all three shots, and played just 7 minutes before halftime after picking up two early fouls. Cardoso finished with a season-low three points on 1-of-5 shooting but snared 10 rebounds.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

N.C. State should retain its ranking, having held off a team that was ranked early in the season.

BIG PICTURE

North Carolina State: The Wolfpack beat Louisville 74-60 on Feb. 1, when Cunane scored 16 points in her first game in nearly a month because of COVID-19 protocols. The Wolfpack have lots of offensive options, which gives them the potential for big outbursts at any moment. N.C. State still has a chance to edge Louisville, which played later Sunday, for the top seed in the ACC Tournament.

Syracuse: The Orange thought they were underrated at No. 23 in the preseason AP Top 25, but after two straight losses last month dropped them out of the rankings altogether, they have not been able to claw their way back. Mangakahia is hopeful of making a postseason run to cap her career, and with Cardoso in the middle and Lewis in the backcourt, they form a dynamic trio that can cause lots of problems.

UP NEXT

North Carolina State: Plays in ACC Tournament.

Syracuse: Plays in ACC Tournament.

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