The NC State women’s basketball team didn’t put on an elite performance Thursday. But by finding a way to overcome a poor shooting night to upset the country’s top-ranked team, the No. 8 Wolfpack moved another step closer to joining the nation’s elite.
The defending ACC Tournament champions got 16 points and 12 rebounds from senior forward Kayla Jones and held No. 1 South Carolina to just 27% shooting from the floor for a gritty 54-46 upset of the Gamecocks at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia.
It was State’s first win against a top-ranked team since an ACC Tournament semifinal game win against Duke in 2007.
“I feel like it’s a huge win,” Jones said, adding that it proves her team “can compete with the best of the best.
“We just beat the No. 1 team. We’re No. 8, so I feel like it’s huge. I feel like we can compete with anyone.”
As poorly as the Gamecocks shot in the game, State wasn’t much better. With star center Elissa Cunane going just 3 of 13 and guard Kai Crutchfield missing six of her seven field goal attempts, the Wolfpack (3-0) was limited to just 29% shooting.
But Jones, who moved from small forward to power forward in the absence of injured sophomore Jada Boyd, came to the rescue with a strong performance on both ends of the floor.
Her two biggest plays came in the final minute, hitting a 3-pointer from the top of the circle late in the shot clock to extended State’s lead to 51-46 with 27 seconds remaining before taking a charge from South Carolina’s LeLe Grissett.
Cunane and Jones then sealed the victory by hitting three of four free throws to complete a 16-4 run to end the Gamecocks’ 29-game winning streak. South Carolina (3-1) made only one of its final 11 field goal attempts during the decisive closing stretch.
“I couldn’t be prouder of a team, a group of girls,” State coach Wes Moore, still soaking wet from a postgame dousing, said afterward. “We didn’t shoot the ball very well, which we normally do. We really struggled. You got to give South Carolina a lot of credit for that and their defense. I’m just so proud of the way we battled. … It’s a good win for our program, obviously.”
Cunane went 8 for 8 from the free-throw line to finish with 14 points. Sophomore Jakia Brown-Turner added 11 points and 12 rebounds, while point guard Raina Perez, a graduate transfer from Cal State-Fullerton — where she was the West Coast Conference Player of the Year last season — came up big in her first Wolfpack start with 11 points, four rebounds, four assists and no turnovers.
Zia Cooke and Laeticia Amihere led South Carolina with 11 points apiece. Amihere also had 15 rebounds, but the Gamecocks’ All-American center Aliyah Boston managed only nine points on 4-of-14 shooting.
There were 13 lead changes in the second half, the final one coming when Perez hit a 3-pointer to put the Wolfpack ahead 46-44 with just over five minutes remaining.