BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — North Carolina State hadn’t won an outright Atlantic Coast Conference regular season title since 1990. The Wolfpack can now cross that off their bucket list.
Elissa Cunane scored 22 points despite foul trouble and No. 3 North Carolina State secured the top overall seed in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament with a 68-66 victory at No. 23 Virginia Tech on Sunday night.
The Wolfpack (26-3, 17-1 ACC) led almost throughout after outscoring the Hokies 23-12 in the first period and closed the regular season with seven straight wins to break a tie for the outright top spot with No. 4 Louisville (25-3, 16-2), which routed No. 14 Notre Dame 86-64 earlier Sunday.
“I told them earlier today in film session: This isn’t toys or food, so we don’t have to share, ok?” coach Wes Moore said. “But we knew it was going to be a great challenge. And and obviously, Louisville, they’re playing really well right now. So we know they’re going to be definitely a force over there in Greensboro, as are a lot of teams.”
Elizabeth Kitley led the Hokies (21-8, 13-5) with 18 points. Virginia Tech, which pulled even with 1:20 left before Cunane’s turnaround restored the N.C. State lead with 53 seconds left, was seeking it first top four seed in the ACC Tournament.
“It wasn’t always pretty, but still a great win,” Moore said.
How it looked hardly mattered.
“Like I say, it’s not a pretty baby, but it’s our baby, so we’re glad to get a W and get the heck out of here.”
Kayla Jones added 12 points and Jada Boyd 11 for the Wolfpack.
Aisha Sheppard had 16 for the Hokies, but missed a 3-point try in the final seconds.
The Hokies trailed 10-1 after four minutes, prompting a Hokies timeout.
“I told the kids it wasn’t about the last play; it was about probably 20 plays throughout the game that you just can’t spot the number three ranked team in the country a 10-1 lead and then you have to dig yourself out,” Hokies coach Kenny Brooks said. “That’s what we had to do the whole game.”
N.C. State: The Wolfpack had 30 points in the paint in their 51-45 victory against the Hokies on Jan. 23 and clearly made going inside a priority in the rematch. They had 30 points in the paint by halftime and finished with a 48-22 edge.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies lost points off turnovers in their first meeting with the Wolfpack 16-2 and did nothing to correct that, losing 21-7 in the rematch. They can be an elite team if their 3-point shots are falling, but when an opponent can neutralize Kitley, they need something else to be working well to compensate. They finish 7 for 26 from beyond the arc.
If the game was, as some thought, the final entry in the candidacies of the Wolfpack’s Cunane and the Hokies’ Kitley for player of the year in the conference, it was pretty much a wash. Cunane’s 22 points were accompanied by just two rebounds, while Kitley grabbed seven. In the first meeting, Cunane was 2 for 16 from the field and finished with seven points and 10 rebounds, while Kitley was 3 for 13 from the field and had eight points and eight rebounds. Both had three blocks. Kitley had four blocks in the rematch.
The Hokies had five offensive rebounds, the Wolfpack six, and N.C. State won the second chance points battle 9-9.
“Even though we didn’t get a lot of offensive rebounds ourselves, we were able to limit their second chances, which is really important the way they shoot it,” Moore said.
The Wolfpack has a double-bye in the ACC Tournament.
The Hokies will face a first-round winner.
More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25