Freshman Bryant gives State women an unexpected lift

Genesis Bryant's emergence against NC A&T on Sunday could give the Wolfpack more depth in the backcourt as it advances in the NCAA Tournament

NC State freshman Genesis Bryant shoots over NC A&T's Sean Kelly Darks during the second half of Sunday's NCAA Tournament matchup in San Marcos, Tex. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

The NC State women’s basketball team needed a spark when it fell behind NC A&T by six points late in the first half of its opening round NCAA Tournament game on Sunday.

That it got one at just the right time isn’t a surprise. It’s been happening all season for the top-seeded Wolfpack.

This time, though, the game-changing play came from an unexpected source.

Freshman Genesis Bryant hadn’t seen action in a game since February 11 and had made only three 3-point baskets all season before hitting one from beyond the arc with 1:20 remaining. The timely shot helped State regain the lead and was the springboard for a 13-0 run that carried over into the second half on the way to a 79-58 win in San Marcos, Tex..

“It was such a big basket,” teammate Jada Boyd said afterward. “I’m so proud of her.”

Bryant’s contribution to the win didn’t end with that one shot. She finished the game with nine points, three assists and two rebounds in 14 productive minutes.

Her extended playing time was partially the result of some early foul trouble by Jakia Brown-Turner and a second quarter injury to Kayla Jones that left State shorthanded. 

But according to coach Wes Moore, Bryant would have seen action regardless based on her work in practice during the two weeks between the Wolfpack’s ACC Tournament victory against Louisville and Sunday’s NCAA opener against A&T.

“I told her (Saturday) ‘you’re going to be our first option on the perimeter coming off the bench’” Moore said. “(That’s) how impressed I was with her in practice.”

Although Bryant’s strong play against the Aggies was something of a bolt out of the blue because of her lack of playing time in a backcourt dominated by veterans Raina Perez, Kai Crutchfield and Brown-Turner, it was hardly an accident.

The 5-foot-6 guard came to State from Jonesboro, Ga., where she earned Georgia High School Association 6A Player of the Year honors for leading Lovejoy High School to a state championship in 2018. 

“Coming out of high school, she had really solid numbers,” Moore said of Bryant, a former four-star recruit who is averaging 3.0 points per game this season. 

“She was really close to being a 90-50-40 player, 90% from the foul line, 50% from the field and 40 % from three. She can shoot the ball. She’s been looking really good in practice, so I wanted to get her out there.”

Bryant’s performance against A&T likely would likely have earned her another opportunity for meaningful minutes in Tuesday’s second round matchup in San Antonio against eighth-seeded South Florida no matter what the situation.

Her role will become even more important if Jones is either limited or sidelined by the knee injury Moore said would take an MRI to diagnose.

“It was good for her to play that well,” Moore said. “Moving forward now, I think she’ll have that to draw from and lean on a little bit. Again, it takes a freshman some time. I know we’re in a microwave society, everybody wants it to happen right now. It’s a big jump from high school to this level. The ACC, that’s a big jump. It takes people some time. 

“But I’m very encouraged late in the year with how she’s looked, and I thought she deserved her opportunity and ran with it. Hopefully that’s going to help her come Tuesday night as well, to be comfortable.”