Top-seeded NC State women beat Kansas State, reach Sweet 16

Mar 21, 2022, 3:02 AM | Updated: 6:17 pm
North Carolina State's Kayla Jones (25) reacts after a 3-point basket during the first half of a co...

North Carolina State's Kayla Jones (25) reacts after a 3-point basket during the first half of a college basketball game against Kansas State in the second round of the NCAA tournament in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, March 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

(AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Wes Moore admitted being a bit nervous for how North Carolina State might manage the emotions of playing for the final time on its home court.

Instead, the top-seeded Wolfpack used the moment to offer one last impressive show to the fans on the way to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.

Kayla Jones scored 18 points to help top-seeded N.C. State beat Kansas State 89-57 in Monday’s second round, earning a fourth straight trip to the tournament’s second weekend.

Raina Perez and Diamond Johnson each added 15 points for the Wolfpack (31-3), who used a dominating second-quarter performance to earn a 12th straight win. N.C. State shot 55% and made 9 of 19 3-pointers, romping to a 35-point lead at one point in an emotional finale at Reynolds Coliseum.

“I think they just go out and play,” Moore said. “They love playing the game and they play so well together and they just get lost in the moment, and don’t think too much.”

By the end, all 13 players who entered the game for N.C. State had scored. And they spent the minutes following the final horn standing at midcourt to take in the cheers and acknowledge the crowd before heading out to face Notre Dame.

The matchup of Associated Press second-team All-Americans Elissa Cunane of the Wolfpack and Ayoka Lee of the Wildcats never truly materialized due to foul issues. But the Bridgeport Region’s headliner instead showed off its deep roster by getting production off the bench and continuing to roll anyway.

Camille Hobby provided a tough performance off the bench in relief of Cunane, scoring eight first-half points while avoiding picking up cheap fouls defending Lee. And that helped the Wolfpack stay on course, leading to a 12-0 burst that began with Lee on the bench.

“Coach Moore always talks about just being ready,” Hobby said. “I was ready for that moment. At practice, it’s what we do every single day.”

N.C. State ran out to a 31-15 lead on Johnson’s transition 3-pointer followed by Perez’s jumper with 5:29 left before halftime, while Kansas State managed just one basket during a 10-minute stretch. That lead reached 20 before halftime and the ninth-seeded Wildcats never got closer than 13 in the second half.

“I think Wes has got the depth, the offense, to score with anybody in the country,” Kansas State coach Jeff Mittie said.

Freshman Serena Sundell scored 17 points to lead Kansas State, which was trying to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2002. But the Wildcats shot just 39% and made 7 of 25 3-pointers.

The Wildcats scored on three of five possessions to open the game, then hit their long drought after Sundell”s layup for a 7-3 lead.

“We got off to a good start,” Mittie said, “but part of that start, also the pace got away from us a little bit.”

BIG PICTURE

Kansas State: The Wildcats were trying to win multiple games in the same NCAA Tournament for only the third time, the others coming in the Sweet 16 push from two decades ago and an Elite Eight trip in 1982. But they never truly established things with Lee — who scored 61 points earlier this season to set a new NCAA women’s single-game scoring record — and had few defensive answers for the Wolfpack’s flowing attack.

N.C. State: Cunane’s early foul trouble aside, the final home game for the All-American as well as fifth-year seniors Jones, Perez and Kai Crutchfield couldn’t have gone much smoother. That included each getting a curtain-call substitution in the final minutes to rousing cheers and a hug from coach Wes Moore, the last being Crutchfield and Cunane — who had subbed back into the game briefly to get that chance — after Moore called a timeout with 2:03 left.

QUIET IN THE POST

The 6-foot-5 Cunane headed to the bench less than 3 1/2 minutes into the game with her second foul and didn’t play again before the break, finishing with four points in 13 minutes.

The 6-6 Lee needed a little longer to get her second before also taking a seat early at the end of the period. She finished with 12 points, well below her season average of 22.3, despite playing 31 minutes.

Hobby generally did a good job of keeping her off the glass, while Jones and other defenders sagged to help or hovered nearby.

“We knew there would be help,” Lee said. “As a team, it was a matter of where to turn the ball and being on the same page, which I think we struggled. I think we did have some good looks, but it just was hard to get connected.”

UP NEXT

N.C. State’s matchup with Notre Dame on Saturday comes against the only Atlantic Coast Conference opponent to beat the Wolfpack, who went 20-1 against league foes including a three-game run to a third straight ACC Tournament title. The Fighting Irish won 69-66 at home on Feb. 1 in the Wolfpack’s last loss this season.

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Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

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More AP coverage of March Madness: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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Top-seeded NC State women beat Kansas State, reach Sweet 16