RALEIGH, N.C.- When Kayla Jones decided to come back to North Carolina State for a fifth year, she had a few goals in mind. One of which was helping the Wolfpack capture a regular season Atlantic Coast Conference title, something they hadn’t done in 32 years.
Jones scored a season-high 18 points and fifth-ranked N.C. State clinched a share of the ACC regular season conference title for the first time since 1990 with a 95-53 win over Syracuse on Sunday.
As she sat next to the trophy after the victory – which was her final regular season game at Reynolds Coliseum – Jones couldn’t help but smile.
“I’m just so happy today. I’m just full of joy right now,” Jones said. “It’s been a goal since summer. I’m so happy to have this baby here.”
Jakia Brown-Turner added 14 points, eight rebounds and six assists for the Wolfpack (25-3, 16-1 ACC), while Elissa Cunane had 14 points and 10 rebounds, her seventh double-double of the season.
“I just think we wanted it, like really bad, especially this year,” Cunane said. “Everyone had to sacrifice and be unselfish.”
N.C. State ran away from Syracuse early by jumping out to a 28-6 lead in the first quarter. Jones had eight points in that span.
Syracuse sliced the deficit down to 12 points with an 11-0 run in the second quarter – a stretch in which Chrislyn Carr and Teisha Hyman scored all the Orange’s points – but Syracuse never threatened to tie the game up. N.C. State grew its lead to as much as 45 points in the fourth quarter.
Carr finished with 14 points and Naje Murray and Hyman each had 12 for Syracuse (11-15, 4-12).
Key to N.C. State’s victory was its perimeter defense and overall excellence inside. The Wolfpack held Syracuse to 25.7% shooting from behind the arc, and outscored the Orange 62-16 in the paint while also outrebounding them 59-27.
“They scored a lot of points in the paint, but we didn’t want to give them both, so we were making sure we were staying home with their shooters,” Syracuse interim coach Vonn Read said. “N.C. State came out and jumped on us a little bit there.”
N.C. State: In addition to securing at least a share of its first regular season crown in more than three decades, N.C. State also locked up the top seed in the upcoming ACC Tournament. The No. 1 seed will give the Wolfpack a double-bye. N.C. State has won the past two ACC Tournaments.
“I love the way we’re playing right now and the momentum we’re building,” N.C. State coach Wes Moore said. “Hopefully we can keep that going. This is the time of year you want to be peaking. It’s not the end of the road, but it’s a good way to start stepping into March.”
Syracuse: The loss to the Wolfpack was Syracuse’s third straight, and its 11th in its past 14 games. The thing that the Orange are particularly good at this year is free throw shooting – entering this game with the nation’s third-best mark at 80.6%. But the Wolfpack didn’t allow Syracuse to get there often. Syracuse made 6 of 6 free throws, which is tied for the fourth-least amount of free throws the Orange have taken this season.
STAT OF THE NIGHT
Syracuse led the ACC and was 26th in the nation in steals entering Sunday, averaging 10.2 thefts per game. They had six against N.C. State, but the Wolfpack didn’t allow the Orange’s opportunistic players to impact the game. The Wolfpack turned the ball over 11 times, but also had a season-best 25 assists.
With No. 3 Louisville losing to No. 24 North Carolina earlier in the week, the Wolfpack should at least swap spots with the Cardinals in the upcoming poll. N.C. State has won six straight since losing at No. 19 Notre Dame earlier this month, and the Wolfpack beat the Tar Heels comfortably in both of their regular season meetings.
N.C. State: The Wolfpack will conclude their regular season on Feb. 27 at Virginia Tech.
Syracuse: Wake Forest will host the Orange on Thursday.