Tech continued their road trip of the Carolinas and Virginia last Tuesday at Duke, for what became the team’s fifth consecutive win, three of which came on the road. It was Tech’s first game ranked No. 12 by the AP this season, and they easily showed why at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Sophomore Eylia Love continued off her career night against Boston College by scoring 12 first half points. At no point did Duke lead during the entire game, with the Jackets breaking out early 13-2 before the first quarter ended.
After putting up 34 first half points on 36 shots, the Jackets slipped a little bit in the third quarter, only scoring four buckets while the Blue Devils slowly chipped away at Tech’s lead. When needed though, fifth year Lorela Cubaj came through with a couple clutch layups to stem Duke’s momentum, stopping them from gaining too much on Tech’s lead. Duke had an 11-2 run, which included a 4-of-6 shooting run to finish the third quarter.
Tech only scored nine points in the third, becoming the first quarter since the second quarter at home against North Carolina that they were held to single digit scoring.
Senior Sarah Bates hit a couple three-pointers in the game, including one that helped keep Tech ahead during Duke’s run. She ended up playing more minutes this game than senior Digna Strautmane, who only scored a couple free throws in this game.
Tech would win 59-46, which included a program record low of four offensive turnovers the entire game. On Duke’s side, they also had a season low, giving the ball away only 11 times. Cubaj’s 15 points lead the Jackets, and were paired with seven assists. It was the first win for the Institute at Duke since 2016, and only the fourth in the women’s program history.
The next test for the Jackets was set up to be the biggest game of the season, a road game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack. After the Feb. 6 AP rankings were released, Tech gained a spot to No. 11, and the Wolfpack dropped two spots to No. 5 after losing to Notre Dame.
This game was a highlight on the NC State home schedule, as it was the annual Play4Kay game, a game dedicated to celebrating cancer survivors in remembrance of the legendary NC State coach, Kay Yow, who died of breast cancer in 2009, and had become active in raising awareness in concert with the V Foundation before her passing. Tech coach Tasha Butts, who is currently fighting breast cancer, was featured and spoke during the halftime ceremony.
To mark the occasion, NC State wore pink uniforms, and Tech wore their classic white uniforms, but with the gold lettering swapped out for pink.
For Tech, a win would vault them into the top ten nationally, and certainly in a prime spot to host NCAA Tournament games. After an early first quarter lead though, this proved to not be the kind of night Tech was headed for.
Tech went on an 8-0 run early that gave them a 10-2 lead, which included a couple three point efforts just barely lipping out. The Wolfpack quickly responded with their own 10-2 run, ending the first quarter tied at 14.
NC State continued their run of dominance into the second quarter, going on what amounted to a 26-8 run after Tech was up 10-2.
It was the perimeter defense from the Wolfpack that caused Tech serious problems. With center Elissa Cunane there to challenge any attempts in the paint by Cubaj or junior Nerea Hermosa, open shots were at a minimum and layups did not come easy on high-low plays. Tech only shot one-of-seven to end the first half.
The Jackets started the second half with a couple turnovers, contributing to NC State’s 10-0 start to expand on their eight point halftime lead. Freshman Elizabete Bulane was given some minutes in the third after senior Lotta-Maj Lahtinen had airballed and clearly was rattled trying to distribute the ball around the tight Wolfpack defense.
Tech would only put up seven 3rd quarter points, allowing NC State to pull away to a 49-29 lead to start the fourth quarter, which essentially was a whole quarter of garbage time. Tech did come back a little, notably while sophomore Avyonce Carter was on the floor at the end, being the only Jacket with a positive plus/minus at +10.
The Wolfpack would win 59-48. They moved to 21-3 on the season, and gave Tech their fifth loss of the season and third in conference play.