Smith returning to NC State instead of staying in NBA draft

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RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina State guard Terquavion Smith is returning for his sophomore season after going through the NBA draft process.

The 6-foot-4 sophomore participated in the league draft combine in Chicago earlier this month and was considered a potential first-round prospect. But Smith posted a video to social media Tuesday announcing his plan to return, saying: “The job’s not done. Let’s get to work.”

ESPN, which first reported Smith’s decision, had Smith ranked 22nd among draft prospects after he averaged 16.3 points and shot 37% from 3-point range. He was second in the Atlantic Coast Conference in freshman scoring behind only Duke’s Paolo Banchero, a candidate to go No. 1 overall.

Smith’s biggest game had him scoring 34 points in a loss at rival North Carolina in January, marking the No. 2 total by a freshman in program history.

N.C. State is still awaiting a decision from 6-7 sophomore wing and leading scorer Dereon Seabron, who also participated in the draft combine. Players have until the NCAA’s deadline Wednesday night to decide whether they’re returning to school or staying in the draft.

North Carolina State transfer joins revamped Butler roster

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INDIANAPOLIS — Butler coach Thad Matta landed his second big man in less than a week Monday, announcing the addition of 6-foot-11 Manny Bates from North Carolina State.

The grad transfer had 147 blocks, fourth in school history, and shot 64.7% from the field in two seasons with the Wolfpack. He played just one game last season after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in the first minute of North Carolina State’s season opener.

“Manny’s presence defensively will be incredibly impactful,” Matta said in a statement. “He blocks and alters shots at a high level. Offensively, his size and athleticism give him the ability to score in the post, in the pick-and-roll, and in transition.”

The announcement comes just days after Matta announced that 6-10 forward Jalen Thomas would transfer to Butler from Georgia State. The Bulldogs also recently landed former Akron swingman Ali Ali and are expected to announce soon that a fourth player will transfer into the program.

Last week, Matta also hired former Ohio State stars Greg Oden and Jon Diebler to his staff.

Oden, the IndyStar Mr. Basketball in 2006 and No. 1 overall draft pick in 2007, will serve as director of basketball operations. Diebler will be director of recruiting.

“Both possess great energy and strong basketball knowledge,” Matta said. “They will relate well to our players and will help them grow on and off the court. I was excited years ago when they committed to be part of my program as players, and I’m just as excited they are joining my staff.”

UConn reaches 14th straight Final Four, tops NC State in 2OT

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BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – Paige Bueckers scored 15 of her 27 points in the two overtimes, and UConn beat North Carolina State 91-87 to extend the Huskies’ record women’s Final Four streak to 14 straight on Monday night.

The Huskies, who had been 0-for-5 in overtime in the NCAA Tournament, will face top seed Stanford on Friday night in the national semifinals in Minneapolis.

Bueckers, who grew up 10 miles outside the site of the Final Four, scored the first five points in the second overtime to lift the Huskies (29-5).

“Two days ago I said, `Win or go home’, but we won and I’m still going home,” Bueckers said. “This is crazy. I’m just so excited no matter the location, no matter where it is.”

The sensational sophomore, who missed two months this season with a knee injury, once again looked like the player who was the AP Player of the Year in 2021. She was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Bridgeport Region.

“Thank God Paige came back, because she just gives everybody so much confidence and then everybody just kind of played and everybody took turns making plays,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “It was just an amazing basketball game and it was a great showcase for our sport.”

With N.C. State within 86-84 in the second OT, Christyn Williams hit the second of two free throws and then a layup with 21 seconds left to give UConn a 89-85 lead.

Jakia Brown-Turner, who hit a 3-pointer with 0.8 seconds in the first overtime to tie the game, then made a layup to get the Wolfpack within two, but Williams converted a layup off the inbounds to seal the win.

UConn had lost senior center Dorka Juhasz to a forearm injury earlier in the game.

“This team has been through so much and it’s only made us stronger,” Bueckers said. “And if we see one of our sisters go down, we’re going to do it for her. We all love each other, we’re all so close. It just signifies what we’ve been through all year. Whole bunch of adversity, highs and lows, ups and downs. We stayed composed and we stayed together.”

Brown-Turner finished with 20 points for N.C. State (32-4).

Both teams had chances to win in the final 30 seconds of regulation. UConn’s Olivia Nelson-Ododa was fouled with 28 seconds left and missed both free throws. On the ensuing possession, Diamond Johnson dribbled down the clock and drove before passing it back out to Kai Crutchfield, who was way off on a deep 3-pointer from the wing.

N.C. State was trying to reach the national semifinals for the second time in school history. The Wolfpack made it that far in 1998, beating the Huskies in the Elite Eight that season to advance. None of the current roster was even alive then.

Crutchfield, Raina Perez and Kayla Jones all came back this year using their extra COVID-19 season that was granted by the NCAA to try and lift the Wolfpack to new heights. They succeeded, advancing farther than the team had in 24 years.

The Huskies dealt with injuries and COVID-19 issues all season and had their most losses since 2012, including their first conference defeat in nine years and their first loss to an unranked team since 2012.

Things have been looking up for UConn since the team started getting healthy, starting with Bueckers.

This was the first double-OT game in women’s NCAA Tournament history in the regional final or later.

INJURED HUSKY

UConn suffered a major blow when Juhasz went down in the first half with a scary-looking injury just above her left wrist. She was fouled on a putback attempt and landed awkwardly when she tried to put her hands down to brace her fall.

Juhasz was on the floor in tears and was helped back to the locker room with her team up by seven points. The Huskies extended the advantage to 10 before N.C. State cut it to 34-28 at the half.

She returned to the bench at the start of the fourth quarter dressed in warmups with with her arm in a sling.

HOW THEY GOT HERE

UConn: Beat Mercer in the opening round, UCF in the second round and Indiana in the Sweet 16.

N.C. State: Topped Longwood in the first round, Kansas State in the second round and Notre Dame in the regional semifinals.

TILL WE MEET AGAIN

This was the first meeting between the schools since the 2006-07 season. They are scheduled to play the next two seasons.

“I agreed to a series with UConn starting next year,” N.C. State coach Wes Moore said. “Coming back here next year, then they’ll come to us the following year.”

NC State looks to end UConn’s Final Four streak

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BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — No one on North Carolina State’s roster was born the last time the Wolfpack reached their last Final Four 24 years ago.

The top-seeded Wolfpack will try to end that drought and stop UConn’s record streak of 13 straight trips to the national semifinals when the two teams play Monday night in the Bridgeport Region final.

Raina Perez was the closest to being alive back in 1998 – being born a few months after that run by legendary N.C State coach Kay Yow’s team.

“It’s huge for this program and it will take a lot of hard work and grit, especially since it’s UConn,” Perez said of reaching the Final Four. “They are always a good team and we will have to fight real hard and we can get there.”

The graduate guard is a big reason that the Wolfpack are still playing. Perez had a steal at midcourt and go-ahead layup with 14 seconds left as the Wolfpack (32-3) advanced to the Elite Eight on Saturday after rallying past Notre Dame.

It could be a tall task for Wes Moore’s team, which is playing a game in the Huskies’ backyard in front of an expected sellout crowd that will be pulling hard for UConn.

“I think tomorrow is a home game for them. No question about it,” N.C. State center Elissa Cunane said. “We’ve gone to South Carolina and beaten them at their home, Louisville at their home. We’ve beaten great teams on their home court and we’re capable of doing it tomorrow.”

The last time N.C. State got this far was in 1998 when it played UConn in the regional final and beat the Huskies to reach the school’s lone Final Four.

UConn had a little easier time with Indiana, using a 16-0 run to start the third quarter to pull away from the Hoosiers. The Huskies have been on a historic run over the past 13 years, reaching the national semifinals every season and winning six NCAA titles during that span. – the last coming in 2016 to end a streak of four consecutive ones.

“Your program can only get you so far,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “This is the end of the road unless someone steps up and plays spectacularly well. Who that is I don’t know. We haven’t had our team together except for the last four weeks. It could be anyone at this point.”

The Huskies (28-5) have had one of their most challenging seasons in recent memory due to injuries and COVID-19 issues. UConn had its most losses since 2012, including the Huskies’ first conference defeat in nine years as well as their first loss to an unranked team since 2012.

Things have been looking up for UConn since the team started getting healthy, including the return of Paige Bueckers from a knee injury that sidelined her for over two months. While she hasn’t been playing at the same level she did as a freshman last year when she won the AP Player of the Year award, she’s been working her way back.

She played 33 minutes in the Sweet 16 win.

“It’s been a little bit of finding ourselves again, how much do we want to cheer for Paige and how much do we need to just play basketball and make shots and let her figure her own way out out there,” Auriemma said. “Today she took a more assertive role, which I like for her to do.”

This is the first head-to-head meeting between the schools since the 2006-07 season although they are scheduled to play next two seasons.

“I agreed to a series with UConn starting next year,” Moore said. “Coming back here next year, then they’ll come to us the following year”

Perez’s late basket lifts NC State to 66-63 win over Irish

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BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Raina Perez’s steal at midcourt and layup with 14 seconds left lifted top-seeded N.C. State to a 66-63 win over fifth-seed Notre Dame on Saturday in the Bridgeport Region semifinals.

It’s the Wolfpack’s first trip to the Elite Eight since 1998 when they reached the Final Four.

Trailing 59-51 early in the fourth quarter, the Wolfpack rallied, scoring 15 of the final 19 points capped by Perez’s layup. The Irish had one last chance, but Maddy Westbeld missed a 3-pointer from the wing and Perez hit both free throws for the final margin.

“We practice this and knew I could do it,” Perez said of the free throws. I’m just so happy I knocked them down.”

The Wolfpack had gotten within 63-62 when Elissa Cunane made the first of two free throws with 36 seconds left. After a Notre Dame timeout, the Irish got the ball inbounds in the backcourt and Dara Mabrey was stripped near midcourt by Perez, who took it in for the layup and the lead.

N.C. State (32-3) advanced to the regional final Monday night where it will face either second-seeded UConn or No. 3 Indiana.

Cunane scored 16 points and Kai Crutchfield added 14 for the Wolfpack, who avenged an earlier loss to the Irish on Feb. 1. That was N.C. State’s most recent loss of the season.

“It’s a hump we had to get over and the girls are determined and I’m determined and we made it happen.” said Crutchfield of reaching the regional final.

Olivia Miles scored 21 points and Westbeld added 13 for the Irish (24-9).

Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey has the Irish back among the nation’s elite women’s basketball teams in her second season as head coach. The Irish missed the NCAAs last year for the first time since 1995.

The Wolfpack got off to a decent start and led 16-12 after one quarter before the Irish got going behind their freshman Miles. She and fellow first-year player Sonia Citron scored seven straight for the Irish to open up a 36-26 lead. The Wolfpack trailed 38-30 at the half. The lead stayed around eight for most of the third quarter before the rally by N.C. State.

BIG PICTURE

Notre Dame: The Irish are a very young squad and are headed back to being one of the top teams in the country.

N.C. State: The Wolfpack struggled most of the game, but found a way to win in the end and reach the Elite Eight with a senior-led squad.

HOW THEY GOT HERE

Notre Dame: The Irish topped UMass in the first round before routing fourth-seed Oklahoma 108-64 in the second.

N.C. State: The Wolfpack routed both Longwood and Kansas State to advance to the Sweet 16.

Top-seeded NC State women beat Kansas State, reach Sweet 16

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Wes Moore admitted being a bit nervous for how North Carolina State might manage the emotions of playing for the final time on its home court.

Instead, the top-seeded Wolfpack used the moment to offer one last impressive show to the fans on the way to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.

Kayla Jones scored 18 points to help top-seeded N.C. State beat Kansas State 89-57 in Monday’s second round, earning a fourth straight trip to the tournament’s second weekend.

Raina Perez and Diamond Johnson each added 15 points for the Wolfpack (31-3), who used a dominating second-quarter performance to earn a 12th straight win. N.C. State shot 55% and made 9 of 19 3-pointers, romping to a 35-point lead at one point in an emotional finale at Reynolds Coliseum.

“I think they just go out and play,” Moore said. “They love playing the game and they play so well together and they just get lost in the moment, and don’t think too much.”

By the end, all 13 players who entered the game for N.C. State had scored. And they spent the minutes following the final horn standing at midcourt to take in the cheers and acknowledge the crowd before heading out to face Notre Dame.

The matchup of Associated Press second-team All-Americans Elissa Cunane of the Wolfpack and Ayoka Lee of the Wildcats never truly materialized due to foul issues. But the Bridgeport Region’s headliner instead showed off its deep roster by getting production off the bench and continuing to roll anyway.

Camille Hobby provided a tough performance off the bench in relief of Cunane, scoring eight first-half points while avoiding picking up cheap fouls defending Lee. And that helped the Wolfpack stay on course, leading to a 12-0 burst that began with Lee on the bench.

“Coach Moore always talks about just being ready,” Hobby said. “I was ready for that moment. At practice, it’s what we do every single day.”

N.C. State ran out to a 31-15 lead on Johnson’s transition 3-pointer followed by Perez’s jumper with 5:29 left before halftime, while Kansas State managed just one basket during a 10-minute stretch. That lead reached 20 before halftime and the ninth-seeded Wildcats never got closer than 13 in the second half.

“I think Wes has got the depth, the offense, to score with anybody in the country,” Kansas State coach Jeff Mittie said.

Freshman Serena Sundell scored 17 points to lead Kansas State, which was trying to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2002. But the Wildcats shot just 39% and made 7 of 25 3-pointers.

The Wildcats scored on three of five possessions to open the game, then hit their long drought after Sundell”s layup for a 7-3 lead.

“We got off to a good start,” Mittie said, “but part of that start, also the pace got away from us a little bit.”

BIG PICTURE

Kansas State: The Wildcats were trying to win multiple games in the same NCAA Tournament for only the third time, the others coming in the Sweet 16 push from two decades ago and an Elite Eight trip in 1982. But they never truly established things with Lee – who scored 61 points earlier this season to set a new NCAA women’s single-game scoring record – and had few defensive answers for the Wolfpack’s flowing attack.

N.C. State: Cunane’s early foul trouble aside, the final home game for the All-American as well as fifth-year seniors Jones, Perez and Kai Crutchfield couldn’t have gone much smoother. That included each getting a curtain-call substitution in the final minutes to rousing cheers and a hug from coach Wes Moore, the last being Crutchfield and Cunane – who had subbed back into the game briefly to get that chance – after Moore called a timeout with 2:03 left.

QUIET IN THE POST

The 6-foot-5 Cunane headed to the bench less than 3 1/2 minutes into the game with her second foul and didn’t play again before the break, finishing with four points in 13 minutes.

The 6-6 Lee needed a little longer to get her second before also taking a seat early at the end of the period. She finished with 12 points, well below her season average of 22.3, despite playing 31 minutes.

Hobby generally did a good job of keeping her off the glass, while Jones and other defenders sagged to help or hovered nearby.

“We knew there would be help,” Lee said. “As a team, it was a matter of where to turn the ball and being on the same page, which I think we struggled. I think we did have some good looks, but it just was hard to get connected.”

UP NEXT

N.C. State’s matchup with Notre Dame on Saturday comes against the only Atlantic Coast Conference opponent to beat the Wolfpack, who went 20-1 against league foes including a three-game run to a third straight ACC Tournament title. The Fighting Irish won 69-66 at home on Feb. 1 in the Wolfpack’s last loss this season.