RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Elissa Cunane made the most out of an otherwise disappointing day for No. 9 North Carolina State in a 62-49 victory over Elon on Sunday.
The sophomore center scored a career-high 28 points and grabbed 16 rebounds as the Wolfpack overcame a sluggish opening three quarters to improve to 10-0. Kayla Jones added 12 points and Aislinn Konig had 10 for N.C. State.
Brie Perpignan led Elon with 14 points as the Phoenix (3-5) gave N.C. State all it could handle in the Wolfpack’s first game in 10 days.
“We were a step slow,” N.C. State coach Wes Moore said. “Elon was definitely more aggressive than us and found a way to come up with the ball more than we did … Very disappointing day, for me about as much fun as a root canal.”
N.C. State did a lot of things wrong for the first three quarters, and Elon capitalized on the Wolfpack’s errors. Shooting 15 of 30 from the free-throw line and 21 of 58 from the field (36.2%) kept N.C. State from opening a significant lead against a gritty, determined opponent.
“Our motto is to be a great defensive team, and I thought we had a great defensive strategy,” Elon coach Charlotte Smith said. “We executed it for the most part, wanted to take them out of their rhythm and make it difficult for them to get points in the paint. But unfortunately in the second half, they got a lot of those easy touches.”
With the Wolfpack ahead by just five points, Konig made a 3-pointer as Smith was called for a technical foul with 4:17 remaining in the game. Konig made the second of the two technical free throws to extend the lead to 52-43.
Cunane’s scoring and rebounding proved to be too much for the undersized Phoenix to match. She went 9 of 15 from the field on a day when most of her teammates struggled.
Aside from Cunane and Jones (5 of 8), N.C. State shot 7 of 35 (20%) from the field.
“We can learn from every single game,” Cunane said. “Like Coach Moore said, it’s better to learn from a win than to learn from a loss. We’ll watch film on this, and we’ll get better from here on.”
Moore wasn’t panicked about the Wolfpack’s shooting as N.C. State entered the game hitting at a healthy 38.8 % pace from behind the arc. But he said his players need to do a better job of preventing drives by getting down in a stance and taking pride in keeping their opponent from entering the lane.
“I don’t think we had our normal energy,” he said, “and I don’t think we were flying around the way we need to.”
Elon: Defense is the Phoenix’s strength, as the team demonstrated by causing N.C. State to shoot 36.2% from the field after entering the game averaging 46.2%. But Elon just doesn’t quite have the scoring ability to knock off a top-10 team on the road.
N.C. State: The Wolfpack’s attention to detail left something to be desired. But the lackluster effort wasn’t entirely a surprise after a 10-day break for final exams following a high-intensity win over then-No. 9 Maryland on Dec. 5.
N.C. State shot just 19.2% (5 of 26) from 3-point range even though the Elon defense was concentrating on stopping Cunane in the low post. Junior guard Kai Crutchfield, who made five 3-pointers in a win over Maryland on Dec. 5, was 1-for-8 on 3-point attempts.
“We were going to try to work inside out, but our shots weren’t hitting,” Jones said. “So we just had to keep pounding it in there and crashing the boards.”
Elon: Meets Newberry on Tuesday and Coastal Carolina on Thursday in the Carolina Invitational at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
N.C. State: Plays host to Chattanooga on Thursday.