RALEIGH, N.C. (AP)Francesca Pan delivered a brilliant performance at an opportune time.
The Georgia Tech guard scored 13 of her 30 points in the first six minutes of the third quarter and the Yellow Jackets boosted their NCAA Tournament hopes by holding on for a 65-61 win over No. 4 N.C. State.
The Yellow Jackets (17-9, 8-7 Atlantic Coast Conference) have been in contention for the NCAA Tournament thanks to a 14-3 start but had lost six of eight games. Three of those losses came in overtime, with Georgia Tech agonizingly close to big wins without being able to finish off its opponents.
”We’ve had some tough losses this year, some losses that we shouldn’t have had,” said Pan, a senior guard from Italy, ”so this game means a lot to us, for our team, for our program. We beat No. 4 in the country in their house, and we are going to go from here. We are very happy.”
Pan didn’t let the opportunity against N.C. State get away. She made four 3-pointers – more than the entire N.C. State team and twice as many her teammates combined. With Georgia Tech trailing by five at halftime, she mostly used an assortment of pull-up jumpers to score 13 points in six minutes to help the Yellow Jackets build the 11-point lead.
After N.C. State cut the deficit to four points 31 seconds into the fourth quarter, she made two 3-pointers within 1:42 to help Georgia Tech increase its advantage to 12 points. And when the Wolfpack pulled within two points in the closing minute, she made 3 or 4 free throws in the final 25 seconds to clinch the win.
She finished with career-highs of 30 points and 24 field goal attempts, showing the willingness to take every big shot in the second half to raise Georgia Tech’s hopes for its first NCAA Tournament game since 2014.
”She had some tough looks and hit them and she had some easy looks and hit them,” said Georgia Tech coach Nell Fortner. ”Some days your shooters come out and that’s what they do. She was on today.”
On defense, Georgia Tech was determined to take away 3-point opportunities from the Wolfpack (22-3, 11-3), which also lost at home to No. 9 Louisville on Thursday and dropped out of a tie atop the ACC standings with the Cardinals.
The Yellow Jackets pressured N.C. State into a 3 of 13 performance from 3-point range as Wolfpack senior guard Aislinn Konig was held scoreless after delivering just four points in the loss to Louisville.
N.C. State coach Wes Moore said the Wolfpack has played consecutive games against opponents that seemed more desperate than his team. Louisville was chasing N.C. State to try to grab the top spot in the ACC standings, and Georgia Tech needed a high-profile win to get the attention of the committee that selects that NCAA Tournament field.
Moore said Georgia Tech seemed to screen and move without the ball more effectively than the Wolfpack.
”I don’t feel like we’re matching that energy and intensity the way we need to be,” Moore said.
Center Elissa Cunane and forward Kayla Jones led the Wolfpack with 17 points apiece. Jada Boyd scored 12, including 10 in the final five minutes after replacing Cunane as an undersized center as N.C. State tried to speed up the game and almost rallied to tie it.
But starting guards Konig, Kai Crutchfield and Jakia Brown-Turner combined for just 11 points.
”Guarding that 3-point line today was really important because we gave up nine at Virginia Tech (in an overtime loss on Thursday) and we knew we couldn’t do that because N.C. State averages nine threes a game,” Fortner said.
With Georgia Tech’s defense standing firm, Pan provided enough offense to deliver the upset. N.C. State tried to trap her and faceguard her in the third quarter, when she shot 6 of 7 from the field.
But she scored anyway.
”You’ve got to give her credit,” Moore said. ”She worked very hard to get open and get her shots off.”
Georgia Tech: In her first season as coach, Fortner got the kind of win the program has been craving for a long time. Making the NCAA Tournament would provide an even bigger boost. ”It was a great win for us, there’s no question,” Fortner said. ”This team (N.C. State) is one of the best teams in the ACC and the country; it’s a good day for us.”
N.C. State: Losing two home games in a row after starting 22-1 is likely to damage the Wolfpack’s seeding for the NCAA Tournament. Georgia Tech and Louisville both found ways to slow an N.C. State offense that may be too dependent on Cunane and struggles when she can’t dominate in the lane.
N.C. State starting guards Aislinn Konig and Kai Crutchfield combined to attempt just four field goal attempts against a defense determined to take away the 3-point shot. Konig was 0 of 3 from the field, and Crutchfield made her lone field goal attempt.
Pan is Georgia Tech’s leading scorer, but her 30 points were 18 more than her season average. Konig, meanwhile, entered the game averaging 10.8 points, second-best on the N.C. State team…Freshman center Nerea Hermosa scored 12 points for Georgia Tech, her second double-figure scoring effort in the past four games…Cunane made all eight of her free throw attempts but committed five turnovers.
Georgia Tech: Plays host to Louisville on Thursday.
N.C. State: Visits Miami on Thursday.
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