Florida State had to replace five senior starters this season and the growing pains were often evident. A young team enjoyed its greatest success on Thursday night.
Nausia Woolfolk scored 22 points and No. 24 Florida State scored 10 straight points late in the fourth quarter to knock off No. 9 North Carolina State 75-70.
Woolfolk tied a career high with five 3-pointers. Nicki Ekhomu added 18 points as the Seminoles (20-3, 8-2 ACC) shot 55 percent from the floor in the second half.
Ekhomu iced the win by making a pair of free throws with 17 seconds left. The Seminoles secured a seventh straight 20-win season.
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“It’s a big milestone,” Florida State coach Sue Semrau said. “One we want to acknowledge and move on from. I think now we have much more to do but having accomplished that takes a bit of a weight off us.”
Semrau has leaned on a pair of juniors, Woolfolk and Ekhomu, to lead a young team through the season. Florida State also received a boost from transfer forward Kiah Gillespie, who sat out 2017-18 but has been one of the ACC’s top players this year. Gillespie had nine points and four rebounds on Thursday.
There have been doubts about this team. Depth has been a concern, especially after Florida State lost three players to season-ending injuries, limiting the rotation to eight players.
But the Seminoles have shown their resiliency. They don’t feel the win over the Wolfpack was a statement but does inspire them to see what they can achieve in the final month of the ACC season.
“We’re pretty young,” Woolfolk said. “It’s not really proving a statement. It’s just making momentum for us to go. Give us a mindset knowing that we can fight through things and finish.”
Freshman Elissa Cunane came off the bench to score a season-best 25 points on 10 of 19 shooting for the Wolfpack (21-2, 8-2), who were the last unbeaten Division I team until a loss on Sunday to North Carolina.
DD Rogers had 11 points and 17 rebounds for the Wolfpack. Rogers averages 7.1 rebounds per game but more than doubled that on Thursday and nearly approached her season-best total of 20 boards.
NC State dominated on the boards, winning the rebound edge 44-30.
But Florida State shot 55.2 percent (16 of 29) in the second half to hold off the Wolfpack. Gillespie had two late baskets, including a 3-pointer, to help secure the win.
NC State junior forward Erika Cassell slipped on the court and suffered an apparent knee injury in the second quarter. Cassell had four points in seven minutes. The Wolfpack, who already are without three guards, played short-handed but didn’t receive any contributions from the bench beyond Cunane.
Kiara Leslie scored 11 points for NC State, which shot 42.6 percent (26 of 61) from the floor. But the Wolfpack committed 16 turnovers, and Florida State capitalized in scoring 23 points.
“That’s what we try to do,” Ekhomu said. “We try to get offense off defense and try to get in transition. I think it was a big key.”
Florida State only had eight turnovers and shot 43.1 percent (28 of 65) from the floor. Ekhomu had six assists and no turnovers.
SUCCESS VS. TOP 10 TEAMS
Florida State secured its 16th win in program history over an AP top-10 opponent and has now done it in back-to-back seasons. The Seminoles picked up a road win over No. 2 Louisville last season.
The Wolfpack will likely drop out of the top 10 with the loss, while Florida State should rise a few spots.
NC State: The Wolfpack were a force on the boards and made 11 of 12 free-throw attempts. But they fell behind late and couldn’t make up ground.
Florida State: The Seminoles have won their fourth straight and secured their biggest win of the season.
NC State plays at No. 15 Syracuse on Wednesday.
Florida State plays at No. 4 Notre Dame on Sunday.