Fourth-ranked N.C. State rolls past Wake Forest, 66-47

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WINSTON SALEM, N.C. — Jakia Brown-Turner scored 21 points and No. 4 North Carolina State blew past Wake Forest for a 66-47 win on Thursday night.

Kayla Jones had 16 points and Elissa Cunane provided 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Wolfpack (14-2, 9-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), which shot 45.5% from the field despite making only three of 12 shots in the fourth quarter.

Ivana Raca had 18 points for Wake Forest (11-9, 8-8), which had a three-game winning streak snapped and failed to record a signature victory to enhance its NCAA Tournament resume.

Cunane scored the final five points of N.C. State’s 15-2 run to conclude the first half. That lifted the Wolfpack to a 39-26 lead.

N.C. State began the second half on a 10-1 burst, with Wake Forest needing more than four minutes before posting its first field goal.

Wake Forest dropped to 0-57 all-time against top five opponents. N.C. State has won seven straight meetings in the series.

BIG PICTURE

N.C. State: Brown-Turner has held or shared the team scoring lead in four games, including both outings against Wake Forest. She had 23 points in the 79-65 triumph Dec. 17. She shot 9-for-14 from the field in both those games vs. the Demon Deacons.

Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons played in their home finale. They finished 5-4 in home games, including a two-point loss to then-No. 1 Louisville last month.

UP NEXT

N.C. State: Sunday at home against North Carolina in a rematch of the Tar Heels’ Feb. 7 upset.

Wake Forest: Next Thursday at Miami. A weekend home game vs. Duke was wiped off the slate when the Blue Devils opted to cancel the remainder of their schedule in December.

Virus-hit Boston College (3-13) fires coach Jim Christian

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
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BOSTON — Boston College is down another man.

The basketball team that struggled to fill out a lineup as COVID-19 protocols chipped away at the roster lost coach Jim Christian on Monday when he was fired with three weeks remaining in his seventh season.

The Eagles are 3-13 with just one win in 10 Atlantic Coast Conference games. Athletic director Pat Kraft said assistant Scott Spinelli will coach the team the rest of the season.

“I know that Jim gave everything that he had into leading our program and mentoring our student-athletes,” said Kraft, who inherited Christian from his predecessors. “Ultimately, the program is not headed in the right direction, and though I hesitate to make a midseason coaching change in any sport, now is the right time for us to look forward.”

Christian went 78-132 (26-94 ACC) in seven years at BC, struggling to recruit top talent and supplementing his roster with graduate transfers who showed promise. But he couldn’t elevate the school from the also-rans of the ACC, and the Big East before it.

The shallow roster proved devastating this season, when the Eagles were down to four available scholarship players because of positive coronavirus tests and the resulting contact tracing.

“That’s the 2020, new part,” Christian said on the ACC conference call Monday morning, a couple of hours before his departure was announced. “There’s no playbook for that. It’s just a feel. It’s not easy, but the guys are doing a great job getting through it.”

Once a stopping point for coaches like Bob Cousy, Chuck Daly, Tom Davis and Gary Williams, Boston College more recently has struggled to find someone who could restore the program to relevance.

BC, which has never reached the NCAA Final Four, made it to the regional final in 1994 under Jim O’Brien and won a first-round game in his final two seasons before he moved on to Ohio State. Al Skinner took over in 1997 and from 2001-10 took the Eagles to the tournament seven times.

But they haven’t been back since 2009, Skinner’s next-to-last season. Steve Donahue was hired away from Cornell and lasted four seasons before he was replaced by Christian, another small-school coach looking to make an impact in the Power Five.

A winner for most of the dozen years he spent at Kent State, TCU and Ohio, Christian was hired by then-BC athletic director Brad Bates. After going 7-25 in his second season – including an 0-18 record in the ACC – Christian had the Eagles above .500 two years later.

It would be his only winning season in Chestnut Hill.

Christian’s job was said to be in jeopardy after BC went 14-17 the next year, and after a 13-19 record in 2019-20 new athletic director Martin Jarmond said he had a “heart-to-heart” with Christian about the program’s future. With the pandemic canceling the NCAA Tournament and leaving this season in doubt, Jarmond said “it was not a time to introduce a lot of change when there’s a lot of uncertainty.”

“There’s uncertainty when we’re going to have students back on campus, there’s uncertainty about graduation, there’s uncertainty about the fall,” he said. “With so much uncertainty, I just feel it’s important to have stability in your leadership.”

Jarmond left in May and was replaced a month later by Kraft.

The Eagles opened the season with a respectable 76-67 loss to then-No. 3 Villanova and then beat Rhode Island. They then lost nine of their next 11 games, with five others postponed during a 21-day coronavirus shutdown.

They had just four scholarship players available for a Feb. 2 game against No. 20 Florida State that was eventually called off – because of a positive test on the Seminoles. BC had just six scholarship players against North Carolina State and Wake Forest, and seven for Saturday’s game against Syracuse – all losses. Later Monday, the team suspended guard Wynston Tabbs for violating the school’s COVID-19 protocols.

“It’s not easy,” Christian said Saturday after the 75-67 loss to Syracuse that would turn out to be his finale. “Obviously, we’re not the only ones going through that. But that’s the facts.”

Gray, Barnes lift No. 17 Florida State past Wake in OT

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — RaiQuan Gray scored 24 points and pulled down 12 rebounds as No. 17 Florida State defeated Wake Forest 92-85 in overtime on Saturday in the Seminoles’ first game in two weeks.

The Seminoles tied it at 80 with under a second to go in regulation when Scottie Barnes drove the length of the floor and made a reverse layup. That set up Florida State in the extra period; the Seminoles have won 11 straight overtime games.

Gray made all 10 free-throw attempts and scored the Seminoles’ first four points in overtime. The redshirt junior forward scored in double figures for the sixth straight game and had his second double-double in a month for the Seminoles (11-3, 7-2 Atlantic Coast Conference).

Florida State has now won 23 straight home ACC games, a streak that dates to a 77-68 win over Clemson on Jan. 22, 2019.

Jonah Antonio scored a career-high 23 points, drilling 7 of 8 shots from 3-point range, for Wake Forest (6-9, 3-9). Antonio had the best 3-point shooting game in Wake history with a minimum of eight attempts from long range. He was 23 of 62 (37.1 percent) from deep coming into Saturday’s game.

Ian DuBose, one of three Wake players who fouled out, added 18 points on 6 of 9 from the field.

Barnes had 11 of his 13 points for Florida State in the second half or overtime. M.J. Walker scored 14 points, giving him 976 for his career.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Florida State could move up a few spots with its return to the court. But the Seminoles are poised to make a bigger move next week if they defeat No. 19 Virginia and No. 18 Virginia Tech in home game. The Seminoles had been idle due to coronavirus issues.

TAKEAWAYS

Wake has struggled on the road but battled Florida State to the finish. Aside from the cold shooting to end the first half, the Demon Deacons played the Seminoles evenly and nearly pulled off the upset.

Florida State played without starting center Balsa Koprivica and gave up too many baskets on easy drives. But the Seminoles made timely plays and had too much depth as Wake battled foul trouble.

UP NEXT

Wake Forest plays host to Duke on Wednesday.

Florida State plays host to Virginia on Monday.

Ustby, 3-point shooting help UNC upset No. 4 NC State 76-69

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. –Freshman Alyssa Ustby had season-highs of 20 points and 12 rebounds to help North Carolina upset fourth-ranked rival North Carolina State 76-69 on Sunday.

Stephanie Watts added 17 points for the Tar Heels (9-8, 4-8 Atlantic Coast Conference), who hit a season-high 11 3-pointers and led by as many as a dozen after halftime.

UNC had won just one game since shortly before Christmas, yet responded with a huge performance to upend a top-10 Wolfpack team for the third consecutive season.

Ustby went 4 for 4 from behind the arc to lead the Tar Heels’ outside shooting.

Elissa Cunane scored 14 points to lead the Wolfpack (12-2, 7-2), who shot the ball poorly until well into the third quarter as UNC gained confidence by hitting from outside early. N.C. State regrouped with a 13-0 run to get back in it and lead 52-49 entering the final quarter.

But the Tar Heels responded with their own push to go ahead for good, starting with freshman Kennedy Todd-Williams’ 3-pointer near the 9-minute mark.

UNC went on to hit 5 of 7 3s in that final period, including Ustby feeding Watts for one that made it 69-62 with 2:11 left. N.C. State got no closer than four the rest of the way.

BIG PICTURE

N.C. State: The Wolfpack’s 74-60 win against top-ranked Louisville on Monday followed a 54-46 win at then-No. 1 South Carolina on Dec. 3. That made N.C. State just the third Division I women’s team in the last 20 seasons to have two wins against a No. 1-ranked team in the same season – and the only one to earn both on the road. And it gave N.C. State at least a claim to the top spot in Monday’s next poll. Yet the Wolfpack stumbled once again against the rival Tar Heels.

UNC: The Tar Heels had managed just one win against Notre Dame since beating Wake Forest on Dec. 20. That stretch included six losses as well as one cancellation in what has been a difficult second year for coach Courtney Banghart. But for the second straight year, her team claimed a big rivalry win on their homecourt in the first meeting of the year.

UP NEXT

N.C. State: Clemson visits the Wolfpack on Thursday.

UNC: The Tar Heels’ game at Boston College for Thursday has been postponed, meaning UNC’s next scheduled game comes next Sunday at Pittsburgh.

Louisville, NC State survive upset bids to remain atop poll

Scott Utterback-USA TODAY Sports
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Louisville and North Carolina State both survived upset bids by unranked teams to remain the top two teams in The Associated Press women’s basketball poll released Monday.

The No. 1 Cardinals needed a late basket from Dana Evans to stave off Wake Forest on Sunday while the second-ranked Wolfpack had to rally from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Virginia Tech a few hours later.

Louisville received 22 of the 30 first-place votes from a national media panel while N.C. State garnered five. The two teams will meet next Monday in a makeup of their game postponed because of COVID-19 issues.

N.C. State was playing its first game since Jan. 3 after the team was paused because of the coronavirus. The Wolfpack were still missing their star Elissa Cunane because of the virus. They are hoping to have her back by the beginning of February.

“We’re fortunate, she’s not feeling too bad,” N.C. State coach Wes Moore said.

They weren’t the only top teams to face stiff challenges in the past few days as third-ranked UConn fended off then-No. 25 Tennessee and No. 4 South Carolina edged LSU.

Fifth-ranked UCLA switched places with No. 6 Stanford in the poll after beating the Cardinal on Friday. The ranking matches the highest the Bruins have had in the past 22 years when they were also fifth in 2017. Before that, they hadn’t been ranked that high since 1999.

The rest of the top 10 stayed intact with Maryland, Texas A&M, Baylor and Arizona remaining in their spots. West Virginia and South Dakota State entered the poll this week at No. 24 and 25 while Iowa State and Syracuse dropped out.

SIDELINED WOLVERINES:

Michigan lost its first game of the season this past week, dropping one spot to 12th in the poll, despite a 50-point effort by Naz Hillmon in the defeat to rival Ohio State. The Wolverines got some worse news Saturday night when the entire athletic department announced it was pausing after several positive tests for the new COVID-19 variant that spreads at a higher rate. The Wolverines will miss at least their next four games.

GAME OF THE WEEK:

Arizona at UCLA, Sunday. The Wildcats won the first meeting between the teams by three points and Bruins would love to split the season series and remain in contention for a Pac-12 regular season championship. The two teams as well as Stanford all have two conference losses so far this season.

No. 1 Louisville stays unbeaten, beats Wake Forest 65-63

Scott Utterback-USA TODAY Sports
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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Louisville spent most of Sunday looking little like the nation’s top-ranked team, from struggling to make shots to keeping a determined opponent off the boards.

Of course, it helps to have Dana Evans to offset all that – and allow the Cardinals to barely avoid a huge upset in their first week at No. 1.

The reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year hit a driving shot for the go-ahead three-point play with 8.0 seconds left to help Louisville hang on to beat Wake Forest 65-63 on Sunday. It was part of a huge day for the preseason Associated Press All-American in a game in which little came easily for the Cardinals and they had to survive a final-play shot from the Demon Deacons to hold on.

“We needed her down the stretch there,” coach Jeff Walz said of Evans.

And did they ever.

Evans finished with 25 points, the last coming when she banked in a tough drive over Gina Conti and hit the ensuing free throw. That came after she sparked the 14-2 run that helped Louisville (14-0, 7-0 ACC) erase a nine-point deficit with about seven minutes left, scoring twice and assisting on another basket before ending the run with a 3-pointer for a 60-57 lead with 3:27 left.

“I’m the leader of this team,” Evans said of her winning drive, “so they were counting on me to make something happen – make something out of nothing, so that’s what I did.”

And yet, Wake Forest (7-6, 4-5) had a final chance for its first-ever win against a top-ranked opponent. Ivana Raca popped open on the wing for a 3-pointer, but the shot bounced off the iron at the horn.

Conti scored 13 points while Raca had 12 to lead the Demon Deacons, who erased an early nine-point deficit by going relentlessly to the boards. They took their biggest lead at 55-46 on Alexandria Scruggs’ stickback before the Cardinals regrouped.

“This group’s got to mentally be able to handle what happened today,” Wake Forest coach Jen Hoover said. “And it’s gonna hurt. … We’re not into moral victories. I don’t care if we are little ol’ Wake Forest. That doesn’t mean anything to us. We wanted that win.”

BIG PICTURE

Louisville: The Cardinals reached No. 1 in the AP Top 25 to start the week for the first time. But Walz said he didn’t expect anything would change, noting that while the roster has talent, it isn’t a team that will “just overwhelm you.” His team proved him right Sunday by having to grind out a tough win against a team coming off a 29-point home loss to Georgia Tech.

“It was not a very good effort on our part, just mentally throughout the whole game,” Walz said. “It’s pretty amazing that we even won the basketball game. We really probably did not deserve to.”

Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons had lost all 10 games against No. 1-ranked opponents and they were also looking for their first-ever win against a top-5 opponent after losing their first 61 tries. The Demon Deacons came unexpectedly close to changing all of that with a fearless effort that fell short.

MISSED CHANCES

Wake Forest entered shooting 76.1% from the foul line but made just 12 of 24 free throws.

“You look at that and that makes me sick to see you had No. 1 in the country beat and missed 12 free throws, shot 50%,” Hoover said. “You just can’t do that.”

TIP-INS

Wake Forest finished with a 43-32 rebounding advantage, including 24-13 on the offensive glass. Louisville freshman Hailey Van Lith finished with just five points, though that included a contested layup with 46.6 seconds left for a 62-61 lead. Raca scored inside with 16.7 seconds left to put Wake Forest back up one and set up Evans’ winning score. Louisville shot 34.9% through three quarters before shooting 53% in the final period. Wake Forest shot 39.7% but made 1 of 11 3-pointers.

UP NEXT

Louisville: The Cardinals return home to host Miami on Tuesday in the first of three straight home games.

Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons host Florida State on Thursday.