No four-peat for State as Wolfpack falls to Notre Dame at ACC Tourney

The Irish overcame playing without point guard Olivia Miles

A dejected Saniya Rivers walks past the Notre Dame huddle late in NC State's ACC Tournament loss on Friday in Greensboro. (Shawn Krest / North State Journal)

For the first time since March 9, 2019, NC State lost an ACC Tournament game. The eighth-seeded Wolfpack came out on the short end of a 66-60 score against ACC regular season champion Notre Dame in Greensboro on Friday, ending their three-year reign as league champions.

“We’ve won three straight ACC titles over here, a great run,” said NC State coach Wes Moore. “I was excited after yesterday’s game. I thought maybe we could build on that and carry that over. To be honest, that’s kind of the way our season has been, unfortunately. It’s a microcosm of our season. We’ve just been real inconsistent. We’ve had some great wins, and then we’ve had some real disappointing losses.”

The Fighting Irish were playing without point guard and ACC assist leader Olivia Miles, forcing Sonia Citron to move to the point. The Irish were already playing without starting guard Dara Mabrey, who suffered a season-ending injury in January.

Despite the tattered backcourt, Notre Dame was more than up to the task. Citron scored a game-high 28 points and dished out five assists while drawing 11 fouls from NC State defenders.

“Sonia Citron, to me, is arguably one of the best players in the country,” said Irish coach Niele Ivey. “She’s led two games back to back today, running the point, being the best defender, having 28 points, a completely different position. Just can’t speak enough about her.”

“She’s a great player, great scorer,” said Moore. “We had a hard time trying to beat her to spots, and she was able to turn the corner. She got to the foul line quite a bit.”

Moore wasn’t happy with the fire his team showed in the contest.

“I don’t know if we had quite the same energy we had yesterday, which is kind of disappointing,” he said. “Yesterday we did such a great job on the boards and really were able to attack, get to the rim, score in the paint. And, obviously, give Notre Dame a lot of credit, they made it hard for us to do that. I guess that’s the biggest thing is in a game like this, you’ve got to bring it for 40 minutes and compete on every possession. I felt like at times we didn’t have quite the urgency.”

Notre Dame’s defense had a great deal to do with that. The Irish scored 18 points off 13 NC State turnovers and held the Pack to 36.7% shooting for the game, including 13.3% from 3. State scored just four points in the second quarter as the Irish pulled ahead to stay. The Irish then scored on their first five second-half possessions to create some breathing room.

“Coming out in the second half, we really tried to come out with that fire on defense,” said Maddy Westbeld, who was the game’s second-highest scorer with 14. “and I think that’s what fueled us on offense. So us getting those easy buckets was just us getting stops on defense, and that fueled us.”

That fire was the difference in the game, and something Moore will try to relocate in his team as State heads for the NCAA Tournament.

“At some point we’ve got to want to compete,” he said, “and we’ve got to play with a lot of heart. That’s what we’re used to doing. That’s what we had the last three years over here was we had a lot of heart. We competed. We weren’t a roller coaster. We weren’t up and down. You knew what you were going to get every time out, every game. I can’t put my finger on it. I wish I could. I just know it’s real frustrating, and as a coach, you feel like you’ve underachieved.”