Keisha Brown scored 16 points and N.C. State held off No. 2 North Carolina 72-65 on Friday night after nearly blowing a 26-point lead, giving the Wolfpack a huge win on a night when the university honored its longtime coach.
Marquetta Dickens added 15 points to help the Wolfpack (19-8, 8-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) snap a seven-game losing streak against their instate rival. And the win was the first on the newly dedicated "Kay Yow Court" _ named in honor of the Hall of Fame coach known as much for her determined fight against breast cancer in recent years as her impressive coaching resume.
Throw in the fact it was "Senior Night" and the Tar Heels' recent dominance in the series, and the Wolfpack had no shortage of inspiration.
"I just kept telling my teammates, 'It's a special night, so let's go hard and give it all we have because we're playing for a special person,'" said senior Sasha Reaves, who had 11 points and eight rebounds.
"It meant a lot and I think we came out and showed that by the way we played."
The Wolfpack responded with a terrific opening half, shooting 55 percent to build a 44-18 lead shortly before halftime against a team that came in leading the country at 87.8 points per game.
Though the Tar Heels (25-2, 9-2) kept chipping away, the Wolfpack found a way to hold on. Senior Ashley Key knocked down a key jumper with the shot clock winding down after the Tar Heels had closed the gap to three points and went 4-for-4 at the line in the final seconds to seal it.
It was the Wolfpack's first win against a top-five opponent in six years, a special night for Yow in a career filled with them.
"I don't know that I'm worthy of it, but I certainly am honored and humbled and grateful to be a part of it," Yow said of the court honor. "Spending 32 years in Reynolds Coliseum have meant a lot to me. I think of her as a grand old lady, one of my best buddies."
Yow, a Hall of Fame coach who led the U.S. women's team to a gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, is in her 32nd season as head coach at North Carolina State, compiling a record of 702-322 in 36 seasons overall and leading the Wolfpack to four ACC tournament titles, 19 NCAA tournaments and the 1998 Final Four.
But for many, Yow has been best defined by her fight against cancer that was first diagnosed in 1987. Yow missed 16 games this season after doctors found the cancer that first recurred during the 2004-05 season had progressed.
The Wolfpack had won five of six games coming in since Yow's return, then came out with a performance that even the Tar Heels couldn't believe.
"They started out really strong and took it to us," coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "We just got too far in the hole the first half."
The Tar Heels have lost two of their last three. They lost at home to Duke 64-53 on Feb. 8 in a meeting of the nation's last two unbeaten teams, then came out flat in another rivalry game.
"Our intensity level wasn't where it should have been," said Camille Little, who had 14 points for North Carolina. "They were ready and the score showed that."
Erlana Larkins scored 16 points for the Tar Heels, though she was troubled by leg cramps that required her to take intravenous fluids after the game. All-American guard Ivory Latta, however, struggled to 10 points on 5-for-21 shooting, including 0-for-8 from 3-point range.
That followed her 3-for-20, 0-for-11 on 3s against the Blue Devils last week.
After LaToya Pringle had scored inside to pull North Carolina to 66-63 with 2:02 left, Key knocked down a jumper on the right wing over Latta to push the lead back to five and take back momentum.
The Tar Heels came up empty on the enuing possessions until Latta scored on a putback to cut the lead to 68-65 with 21.3 seconds left, but got no closer.