RALEIGH — A dominating performance on the boards and clutch shooting by junior guard Kai Crutchfield helped No. 13 NC State overcome 28 turnovers in a 66-59 victory over No. 9 Maryland on Thursday night.
Crutchfield made five 3-pointers and scored 19 points, and Elissa Cunane grabbed 15 rebounds to go with her 16 points and help NC State post 51-27 advantage on the boards in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge game.
Kayla Jones added 11 points and 14 rebounds for the Wolfpack (9-0), which notched its 34th consecutive home victory over a nonconference opponent.
Taylor Mikesell had 13 points and Blair Watson 12 — all in the first half — for the Terrapins (7-2), who forced 14 turnovers in each half. But Maryland managed just 20 points off those turnovers, and that wasn’t enough to overcome the rebounding deficit.
“They were really dominant when you talk about the physicality inside,” said Maryland coach Brenda Frese, “and (the referees) let both teams play. … They really let it be as physical as it could be, so it was a game built for March.”
Frese said she figured coming into the game that Crutchfield would be the “X factor” for NC State as Maryland focused a lot of its defensive attention on Crutchfield’s backcourt teammate, Aislinn Konig. While Konig committed six turnovers to go with her six assists under pressure, Crutchfield often found herself with the ball in her hands as the shot clock waned.
After Maryland cut a nine-point, third-quarter deficit to one point in the final period, Crutchfield rose up to sink a 3-pointer to extend NC State’s advantage to 53-49 with 5:27 remaining. Before the game ended, Crutchfield added an assist on a basket by Jones, hit another 3-pointer, and made a fast-break layup to prevent Maryland from getting closer.
“I was just trying to take what the defense gave me,” Crutchfield said. “Of course, I have to give credit to my teammates for setting me up for those things. (I was) just going off their screens and looking for those opportunities.”
Frese was more direct about Crutchfield’s role.
“She was sensational,” Frese said. “She was tough on both ends of the floor.”
Maryland, which lost for the first time since falling at then-No. 8-ranked South Carolina on Nov. 10, left Raleigh with a better understanding of its strengths and weaknesses. The Terrapins realize that they have to be tougher on the boards but can create havoc defensively even against high-quality opponents.
“It’s not necessarily the loss that matters,” Mikesell said. “It’s how you bounce back from it.”
NC State coach Wes Moore, meanwhile, was happy to exit the gym with a win even though the Wolfpack has plenty to work on. He said his team needs to take care of the ball better and do a better job getting back on defense instead of celebrating after a made basket.
“We needed a win like this against a Top-10 program,” Moore said. “Hopefully this does teach us a lot about ourselves and the size, athleticism and the pure talent we’re going to face later on down the road.”
Maryland: After posting an average scoring margin of plus-43.2 in its last five games, a challenging road meeting against a ranked opponent probably was what Maryland needed at this time of the season. The Terrapins did a lot of good things, but will need to improve their work on the boards to win a game of this caliber.
NC State: The Wolfpack were ready to compete in its first meeting with a ranked opponent this season. Holding Maryland 27 points below its season scoring average shows that NC State has a defense that’s well prepared for ACC play.
Maryland: Plays at home Sunday against Loyola (Maryland) before a 10-day break.
NC State: Has a 10-day break before a Dec. 15 meeting at home with Elon.