James, Brooks help No. 10 NC State hang on to beat Duke 54-51 in ACC quarterfinals

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Tenth-ranked North Carolina State and Duke found themselves locked in a tight finish defined by misses and miscues. Still, the Wolfpack did just enough to survive in the team’s Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament opener.

Aziaha James scored 16 points while N.C. State overcame three quarters’ worth of offensive struggles to hold off Duke 54-51 in Friday night’s quarterfinals, winning a game that had the teams battling through lengthy scoring droughts and cold spells.

“I’m proud of the way our players were able to make it work, find a way,” Wolfpack coach Wes Moore said.

Freshman Zoe Brooks added 12 points for the second-seeded Wolfpack (26-5), including a critical driving basket past Taina Mair with 58.8 seconds left that made it a two-possession game. Yet this one came down to the final play, with Duke getting one final shot to tie the game after Mair tied up Madison Hayes to get the ball back with the possession arrow and 9.7 seconds left.

Mair raced the length of the court and to the right side before launching a 3-pointer over Hayes, but the ball struck the front iron. Duke’s Oluchi Okananwa got the rebound but didn’t have time to race back to the arc before time expired to end it and set up N.C. State’s matchup with Florida State.

N.C. State started the game by making 10 of 16 shots, but made just 12 of 41 (29.3%) the rest of the evening. It also weathered a run of 12 straight missed shots in a nearly 8 1/2-minute scoring drought spanning halftime.

“I thought early we were allowing their offense to be played in rhythm,” Duke coach Kara Lawson said. “And we weren’t disrupting. So the catches were easy. The reversals were easy, and they were in rhythm. And you’re probably not going to beat them if you let that happen.”

The problem was, Duke’s offensive struggles were worse. The Blue Devils shot just 30.2% for the game, including 3 for 16 in the fourth quarter and 1 of 13 from 3-point range overall.

“Keeping that motivation on defense and just getting turnovers and executing off those turnovers, it helped us,” James said.

Okananwa had 12 points and 11 rebounds to lead the seventh-seeded Blue Devils (20-11), including Duke’s last basket on a drive with 38.4 seconds left to keep the Blue Devils within range.


Duke: The Blue Devils had advanced with a 70-58 win against Georgia Tech in Thursday’s quarterfinals. That marked Duke’s fourth win in five games, a stretch that had included a win at now-No. 20 Syracuse and a home win against the Wolfpack on Feb. 25.

N.C. State: The Wolfpack had a late-season hiccup coming down the stretch with losses at rival North Carolina and then one at Duke, though N.C. State closed with wins against Syracuse and Wake Forest to secure the No. 2 seed.


Duke guard Ashlon Jackson took an inadvertent blow to the face in the third quarter from James in a play that ended with a trainer immediately pressing a towel to her face to stop bleeding. Jackson eventually returned, but had to change jerseys — she wore a No. 50 with no last name on the back — due to how much blood was on her normal No. 3.


Duke: The Blue Devils await their NCAA Tournament destination.

N.C. State: Florida State awaits the Wolfpack in Saturday’s semifinals.


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