Cunane, Hunter lead No. 7 NC State women past Duke
DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Grace Hunter tore up her knee last season against Duke. This time, she tore up Duke’s defense.
Hunter made three 3-pointers in the final four minutes to help No. 7 North Carolina State rally past the Blue Devils 63-60 on Sunday for its seventh straight win.
Elissa Cunane scored 22 of her 27 points in the second half and Jakia Brown-Turner added 12 points for the Wolfpack (21-1, 10-1 Atlantic Coast Conference).
Hunter’s first 3-pointer tied the game at 52, and her second gave N.C. State the lead for good at 55-54 with 2:14 to play. Her final 3-pointer increased the lead to 59-54 with 32.6 seconds remaining.
“It was amazing,” Hunter said. “It was the greatest moment ever. I just thank the coaches and my teammates for still believing in me no matter what.”
Hunter tore the ACL in her right knee on Jan. 3, 2019, near the end of the Wolfpack’s 63-51 win over Duke. The redshirt senior, who was N.C. State’s leading scorer at the time of the injury, has played limited minutes this season as she recovers.
“She has had to fight and battle all year long to try to get back to this point,” N.C. State coach Wes Moore said. “It’s really great to see her have such an awesome day.”
N.C. State rallied from a 40-30 deficit midway through the third quarter to win for only the second time in its last 16 games at Duke.
Cunane and Brown-Turner combined to score the Wolfpack’s first 26 points of the second half, helping erase the deficit.
Haley Gorecki scored 21 points to lead Duke (11-10, 5-5), which lost its 12th consecutive game against ranked opponents. Leaonna Odom and Kyra Lambert added 13 points apiece for the Blue Devils.
Duke led 45-43 entering the fourth quarter but made just 5 of 19 shots in the period.
“I loved our team defense,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “I’m looking for a little bit more offense.”
N.C. State: The Wolfpack solidified their place just behind No. 5 Louisville (21-1, 10-0) at the top of the ACC. The teams meet at N.C. State on Feb. 13.
Duke: The Blue Devils had won four of their last five games and needed a victory in this one to strengthen their NCAA Tournament resume. They have played one of the nation’s most difficult schedules, but they haven’t been able to convert any of those opportunities against big-time competition into victories.
Cunane, the ACC’s leader in field goal percentage, missed her first field goal attempt and her first free throw. She almost didn’t miss again, finishing 8 of 9 from the floor and 11 of 13 from the free throw line. She was 6 for 6 from the floor in the second half, helping the Wolfpack shoot 50% after halftime.
“You pass it inside, and that opens up the outside shot,” Cunane said. “Whatever they chose not to guard, we’d burn them on it.”
The Blue Devils led 27-23 at halftime, bothering N.C. State with full-court pressure. The Wolfpack entered the game averaging 13.9 turnovers per game, but they had 15 turnovers and only three assists in the first half. N.C. State reversed the trend after halftime, recording four turnovers and 10 assists.
“I’m just really proud of the way our team responded,” Moore said.
Duke dropped to 2-6 in games decided by five points or fewer. … N.C. State tied its 1977-78 team for the second-best start to a season in program history. … N.C. State scored 22 points off Duke’s 14 turnovers, while the Blue Devils managed just 12 points off the Wolfpack’s 19 turnovers. … Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame coach Sylvia Hatchell, who coached at North Carolina from 1986-2019 and led the Tar Heels to the 1994 NCAA championship, sat in the first row under the basket adjacent to the Duke bench.
N.C. State: The Wolfpack play at Virginia Tech on Thursday night. N.C. State rallied from a 14-point deficit to win the teams’ first meeting 76-69 on Jan. 2.
Duke: The Blue Devils conclude their three-game homestand with a visit from North Carolina on Thursday night.