Around the ACC: Clemson upsets No. 23 Syracuse in OT

No. 1 Louisville and No. 2 N.C. State pulled out narrow victories

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Clemson had lost four straight games. After beginning the season with an 8-1 record, things hadn’t been going so well for the Tigers.

But against No. 23 Syracuse on Sunday, Amanda Butler’s side figured some things out and played some terrific and efficient basketball to come away with an 86-77 victory in overtime.

It was Clemson’s first-ever win over Syracuse in women’s basketball, and they did it without the help of stellar freshman Gabby Elliott — who leads the Tigers in scoring with 13.8 points per-game — and leading shot-blocker Tylar Bennett, who is 6’4.

Clemson (9-5, 4-5 ACC) built a big lead early, leading by 19 at the end of the first quarter and 25 at intermission. Clemson’s 52 first-half points were the most scored by an ACC team this season.

Syracuse (7-3, 4-3 ACC) battled back, but Clemson finished the job by getting the ball into the hands of its playmakers, Kendall Spray and Amari Robinson.

Spray, a 5’5 redshirt senior, hit a clutch shot near the end of regulation to take the lead back for Clemson. After Syracuse took a one-point lead, Spray fired a shot from behind the arc. It missed the mark, but Spray kept moving her feet. When Robinson grabbed the offensive board, Spray was open again from deep. She slid closer to the corner, got the pass and fired again. Swish.

In overtime, after Clemson trapped Tiana Mangakahia into a turnover, the ball wound up in Spray’s hands again. She sprinted to the top of the key and hit an in-transition three that would’ve made Steph Curry smile. It pushed Clemson’s lead to two possessions.

Spray, perhaps the best three-point shooter in the ACC this season, finished with 24 points and six rebounds, making 7-of-12 threes. Robinson had a season-high 23 points, nine rebounds, three assists and four steals.

Clemson’s defense is worth noting too. They forced Mangakahia — an All-American point guard — into seven turnovers, frustrating her with presses and traps. The Australian finished with 10 assists, but just two points on 1-of-9 shooting. In all, Syracuse shot just 6-of-24 from three-point land, a 25% clip. Syracuse also had 20 turnovers, the third time this season the Orange have had at least that many cough-ups in a single game.

Anchoring the Tigers’ defense was Delicia Washington. The 5’10 guard not only had a double-double with 17 points and 11 boards, but also finished with three blocks, two steals and four assists. She hounded Syracuse’s guards and banged with the Orange’s bigs. In overtime, she grinned after stuffing the shot of 6’7 Syracuse freshman Kamilla Cardoso.

Clemson used just three players who are 6-foot or taller while Syracuse used five. Despite the size disadvantage, the Tigers won the rebounding battle handily, 54-39. Entering the game, Clemson was 13th in the country in rebounds per-game with 45.1, per HerHoopStats. Their offensive rebounding percentage was 40.5%, good enough for 15th best in the country.

Bright spots for Syracuse — which suffered its second straight loss — were Kiara Lewis’ 25 points and Emily Engstler’s 17 points and nine rebounds off the bench.

Clemson will look for its second straight win Tuesday, hosting a rematch with Pitt.

Other scores from Sunday around the ACC

No. 1 Louisville 65, Wake Forest 63

Wake Forest led by as much as nine points and led by a single point with 15 seconds to play. A victory for them probably would’ve been the most significant in the history of the program. Alas, Dana Evans had other ideas, as the reigning ACC Player of the Year converted an And-1 in the final moments of the game to give Louisville the go-ahead bucket. Wake’s Ivana Raca had a decent look at a shot from three-point range just before the buzzer sounded, but it bounced off the front of the rim.

“I saw that (the defender) was coming so I ball-faked her, and I did like a step-back,” Raca said. “I didn’t have time, but it felt good when it left my hands. It just didn’t go in.”

When Demon Deacons’ head coach Jen Hoover looks at the box score of this game, one stat should stick out: 12-of-24. That’s what Wake Forest shot from the charity stripe. If you want to beat the No. 1 team in the country, you have to make your free throws. Wake also shot just 1-of-9 from beyond the arc.

“(Free throw shooting) has really become an Achilles heel for this team,” Hoover said. “I mean, you look at that — and that makes me sick — to see you had No. 1 in the country beaten and you missed 12 free throws, shot 50%. You just can't do that.”

The battle between Evans and Wake’s Gina Conti was an incredibly fun one to watch at the point guard position. Evans carried her team with 25 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals, but Conti smothered her at times and even blocked one of Evans’ fourth quarter shots. Evans shot 8-of-22 from the field. Conti finished with 13 points, two boards, two assists and two steals.

Wake won the rebounding battle 43-32 and outscored Louisville in the paint 38-32. Louisville’s 39.7% shooting percentage from the floor was their worst of the season. While the loss stings for Wake Forest, their defensive efforts and knowing they hung with the No. 1 team in the country is something they can hang their hat on.

“We're really proud of our defense today. They’re a great team,” Raca said. She also called Louisville’s Evans “the best player in the country.”

No. 2 N.C. State 89, Virginia Tech 87

Wolfpack teammates Jada Boyd and Kayla Jones talk during their game against Virginia Tech on Jan. 24, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Maggie Boulton and Ethan Hyman, via the ACC)

After not playing in 21 days, undefeated N.C. State was able to prevail without All-American center Elissa Cunane, who remains in COVID-19 protocol according to Wolfpack head coach Wes Moore. Cunane will likely miss at least one more game.

Without Cunane’s presence in the paint, N.C. State played a bit of musical chairs with its post players, but none were able to slow down Elizabeth Kitley, who balled out and tallied 30 points and 13 rebounds.

“Virginia Tech’s record (7-7; 2-7 ACC) is so misleading because they are so talented. They’ve got a post player in there that’s one of the best in the league… It’s a tough match-up,” Moore said. “I’m so proud of the way our kids fought and hung in there, without your leading scorer. They found a way to get it done.”

Three N.C. State players had at least 20 points: Kayla Jones (22), Jakia Brown-Turner (23) and Kai Crutchfield (20). Jones also had seven rebounds, four assists and shot 4-of-7 from deep. Jones was previously in COVID protocol, Moore said, but was cleared to play Sunday.

“She’s been our glue all year long,” Moore said. “It started at the South Carolina game — she hit a big three that kind of put us in great shape to win that game. Just all year long… She made some big plays on the defensive end. She just does so many things for us. She really helps us too in transition. When she gets a rebound, she’ll take off with it and get us going. She rebounds, she defends, the little things, she keeps everybody focused and on-track. Couldn’t ask for a better leader. What a year she’s having.”

N.C. State trailed by 10 points heading into the fourth quarter, but a 14-2 run — featuring three’s from Brown-Turner, Crutchfield and Jones — tied the game up at 81-81 with 2:39 to play. Another three from Jones at the 1:11 mark helped the Wolfpack pull away.

“Our defense led to our offense,” Brown-Turner said. “(Jones) kept talking to us the whole game, letting us know that we could do this… We just took the shots that were open. We were all in a rhythm and just got the ball to each other.”

The Hokies and Wolfpack meet again on Thursday in Blacksburg, Virginia.

UNC 78, Notre Dame 73

Stephanie Watts nearly had a triple-double for the Tar Heels with 25 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists, three steals and two blocks. Off the bench, Petra Holešínská chipped in 24 points.

“I knew my team needed me to come out with energy,” Watts said. “I think when you do that, good things happen.”

Notre Dame head coach Niele Ivey said after the game: “I’m very disappointed in the outcome of the game, but hats off to North Carolina. We just have to get better, be smarter taking care of the basketball, and complete the game.”

Dara Mabrey had a career-high seven assists to go along with a team-high 23 points for the Irish.

Georgia Tech 66, Florida State 58

It was the fourth straight win for the Yellow Jackets. Kierra Fletcher led the way with 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Georgia Tech had a big advantage on the glass, outrebounding the Seminoles 48-26.

ACC extras

  • A source close to Duke confirmed to The Next that Duke senior Mikayla Boykin has entered the transfer portal. Boykin will graduate from Duke this May. A former top 20 recruit and Gatorade North Carolina Player of the Year, Boykin battled knee injuries throughout her four-year career at Duke, playing more than 10 games in a single season just once. Boykin seemed to be finally healthy this year, but featured in just two games before the Blue Devils canceled their season.

  • Additionally, Ari Chambers reported that Sara Anastasieska and Jayda Adams will also transfer away from Duke. While three transfers out of Kara Lawson’s program can seem somewhat alarming, it’s worth noting that Adams hasn’t played since the 2018-19 season due to knee problems of her own, and Anastasieska committed to Duke as a grad transfer from Cal while Joanne P. McCallie was still the head coach. Anastasieska’s next school will be her fourth in seven seasons.

  • Virginia Tech freshman Shelby Calhoun has also entered the transfer portal, a source close to the situation told The Next this past week. Calhoun confirmed the move on her Twitter account, calling it a “difficult decision.” Before committing to the Hokies, Calhoun had offers from West Virginia, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Purdue and Xavier. The 5’11 guard from Louisville played in just four games for the Hokies this season.

  • Wake Forest head coach Jen Hoover said that she went to her team after Duke decided to cancel its season and asked her players if anyone wanted to opt out. She said the Demon Deacons could’ve made a team decision or individual decisions to stop playing, but no one did. Wake Forest has not had any pauses in play due to COVID-19. Said Hoover: “Our kids want to play basketball. These kids love being in the gym. They understand the seriousness of what's going on. And we're not looking at anybody else in questioning or judging. But our kids, you know, they want to play and they want to play as many games as they can. And they want to play as often as they can. And they want to go to practice. And that's actually been an outlet for them. It's something that's been fun to do.”

  • Despite this season not counting toward players’ eligibility clock, Wake Forest senior Ivana Raca confirmed after the Deacs’ loss to Louisville that this will be her final season of college basketball. The 6’2 wing is in the top 15 in scoring in program history and is averaging 16.3 points and 9.8 rebounds per-game this season while shooting 40.1% from the floor. A second-team All-ACC selection a year ago, she has featured for the Serbian senior national team and is on the watchlist this season for the Cheryl Miller Award.