RALEIGH, N.C. – Coach Joni Taylor watched her 17th-ranked Georgia team respond without panic or jitters when its big lead vanished in front of a hostile crowd.
In fact, the Bulldogs couldn't have been much tougher in critical moments Thursday night, from hitting a game-extending huge shot to coming up with a winning defensive stand to beat No. 2 North Carolina State 82-80 in overtime.
“It felt like March, right?” Taylor said. “That felt like March Madness out there. So what we've been telling our team is this is the schedule that we're prepared to play. This is what we're ready for.
“What I hope we have learned from it is that we have a chance to be really good.”
The Bulldogs (9-1) sure looked that way Thursday night, too.
There was Sarah Ashlee Barker (16 points) hitting a long, leaning 3-pointer over Kai Crutchfield with 0.4 seconds left in regulation on an inbounds play that didn't go according to plan but worked all the same.
There was the 6-foot-4 Jenna Staiti going for 21 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks in a post matchup with Elissa Cunane — and then coming up with the critical defensive stop against the preseason Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year in the final seconds of OT.
It was the first road win for Georgia against a team ranked either No. 1 or No. 2. And it ended with the Bulldogs bench running from the bench to near midcourt for a hug-filled celebration on the Wolfpack’s home court.
That celebration continued into the locker room, judging by Taylor's soaked hair on her postgame Zoom news conference.
“Hopefully it proves to them — if there was any doubt — that we have an opportunity to be really special,” Taylor said.
Cunane had 18 of her 20 points in the second half for the Wolfpack after spending most of the first half on the bench with two quick fouls. Diamond Johnson added 17 points for the Wolfpack, who rallied from down 40-28 at halftime but couldn’t hold onto a four-point lead in the final minute of regulation.
The loss snapped a 10-game winning streak for the Wolfpack (10-2), who dominated the third quarter and outscored Georgia 24-11 only to surrender 24 points in the fourth.
“We've got to figure out a way to guard better and defend better than what we're doing, and rebound better,” N.C. State coach Wes Moore said, adding: “Obviously we're capable of scoring the ball, we've just got to make sure we stop somebody else.”
Georgia: Picked to finish fourth in the Southeastern Conference, the Bulldogs have lost only once this year — by a point to in-state rival and 18th-ranked Georgia Tech from the ACC. This time, Georgia took down the preseason ACC favorite.
N.C. State: Moore's squad hadn't lost since falling to No. 1 South Carolina on opening night here, making the Wolfpack the first of five top-15 teams to lose to the Gamecocks so far this season. N.C. State had beaten two ranked teams since — No. 9 Maryland in the Bahamas and No. 10 Indiana on the road — but couldn't add a third.
Crutchfield's two free throws with 4.2 seconds left in regulation pushed N.C. State to a 75-72 lead. That only set up Barker for a memorable moment.
Que Morrison inbounded the ball to Staiti, who gave it off to Barker as she came around the top toward the Georgia bench. Barker launched a long shot over Crutchfield that caught nothing but net to stun the Reynolds Coliseum crowd.
In the final seconds of OT, Staiti was defending Cunane in the paint with the Bulldogs protecting an 81-80 lead. Cunane turned toward the baseline and missed as Staiti stayed with her in a play with a lot of contact that left Cunane falling to the floor.
“My main thing in that play was just to get a stop,” Staiti said. “She's a great player, they're going to obviously want the ball in her hands. I just need to do my job: be in good position, keep arms straight up, do not put my arm down and foul her.”
Staiti came up with the rebound with 1.7 seconds left.
“I thought there was a lot of contact, but I'm not the one with a whistle,” Moore said.
Morrison (20 points, six rebounds, six assists) followed by making 1 of 2 free throws with 0.6 seconds remaining. The Wolfpack rebounded the second free throw and called timeout with 0.3 seconds left for a desperation final inbounds play, but Kayla Jones couldn’t get off a shot.
Georgia: The Bulldogs face St. Francis (Pennsylvania) on Sunday in the first of three straight home games.
N.C. State: Virginia visits the Wolfpack on Sunday in ACC play.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at https://twitter.com/aaronbeardap
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