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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — N.C. State struggled to get going against lowly Wake Forest — perhaps looking ahead to a four-game stretch with matchups against a longtime rival and three ranked opponents.

But Kiara Leslie provided a spark in the second half, scoring 17 of her 23 points as the seventh-ranked Wolfpack beat the Demon Deacons 59-50 on Thursday night. N.C. State (21-0, 8-0 ACC) remained the only unbeaten team — women or men — in Division I.

With Wake Forest (10-11, 1-7) switching defenders on screens, the 6-foot Leslie began driving to the rim against post players in the second half to score easy baskets and set up free-throw opportunities.

“I started taking advantage of the mismatches,” Leslie said. “We started off a little slow, but we started to pick it up in the second and third quarter.”

Leslie scored 11 of the Wolfpack’s 14 points in the third quarter to help stave off Wake Forest. N.C. State’s other three points came on foul shots.

“She’s the best player in the league that nobody’s talking about,” Wake Forest coach Jen Hoover said of Leslie, who came in averaging 15 points per game.

Ivana Raca scored 17 points and Gina Conti added 15 for the Demon Deacons, including a 3-pointer that cut the Wolfpack lead to 44-37 with 9:21 left. The Deacons outscored the Wolfpack 17-14 in the third quarter.

Ona Udoh’s basket with 3:13 left cut the N.C. State lead to 54-44, but the Wolfpack answered with a 3-pointer by Kai Crutchfield.

After spotting Wake Forest a 1-0 advantage, the Wolfpack led the rest of the way, though the Demon Deacons never trailed by more than 15 points.

The Wolfpack took a 30-17 lead into halftime despite shooting only 33.3 percent from the field. But the Wolfpack made 9 of 14 shots in the second half.

The Wolfpack were 17 of 30 from the foul line, and 22 of the attempts were in the second half.

Leslie made 8 of 16 from the field and 6 of 8 from the foul line.

“It wasn’t one of our better offensive performances,” N.C. State coach Wes Moore said. “We’ve hit a little bit of a funk here. We have some big, big challenges ahead of us and we’re going to have to play better.”


N.C. State: The Wolfpack got an ugly victory before facing a four-game gauntlet beginning Sunday with rival North Carolina and continuing with trips to Top 25 opponents Florida State and Syracuse and a showdown at home against No. 5 Notre Dame. Because of injuries, the team has only seven players Moore trusts in close games.

Wake Forest: After snapping a six-game losing streak Sunday with a victory at Virginia, the Deacons dropped back below .500. Playing without their top two scorers, Elisa Penna and Alex Sharp, both out with injuries, the Deacons face difficult matchups next against Florida State and Clemson. Sharp had a cast removed from her hand and will have an X-ray next week, Hoover said.


“We haven’t talked a lot about the (winning) streak. With the streak, we know we’ll get the other team’s best effort every night.” — Moore.


The Wolfpack took care of the ball, committing only seven turnovers — two in the first half — but they were credited with only seven assists.


N.C. State: Hosts North Carolina on Sunday.

Wake Forest: At No. 24 Florida State on Sunday.


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