Princeton women top NC State 64-63 in March Madness opener
SALT LAKE CITY - Grace Stone is making a habit of game-winning jumpers for the streaking Princeton Tigers.
“She’s got ice in her veins. She has that look in her eyes and you know she’s gonna make a play. She’s gonna hit a shot,” Princeton coach Carla Berube said.
Stone scored 22 points, including her fifth 3-pointer of the game with 4.7 seconds remaining, to lift 10th-seeded Princeton to a thrilling 64-63 win over North Carolina State in the first round of the women’s NCAA Tournament on Friday night.
“That’s a shot I’ve taken in a game before and my teammates have all the confidence in the world in me,” said Stone, who hit game-winners against Columbia and Rhode Island earlier this season.
Kaitlyn Chen, who also scored 22 points, made a 3-pointer with 55 seconds remaining to cut the Tigers’ deficit to 63-61 and then Madison St. Rose and Stone both came up with steals in the final minute to give the Tigers a chance.
On North Carolina State’s final possession, the Tigers created chaos - as they had done all game long - and knocked the ball loose to prevent the seventh-seeded Wolfpack from getting a shot off.
St. Rose “got her hand on the ball and then I think everybody dove on the ball,” Berube said, who was then drenched by a “water party “ in the locker room and conducted her press conference all wet.
The Tigers (24-5), who held the Wolfpack scoreless for the final 5:43 of the game, ran to the center of the court screaming for jubilation at their unlikely victory.
It’s the second straight season that Princeton has won a first-round game. The Tigers beat Kentucky last season before falling to Indiana in the second round by a point.
The Tigers’ men’s and women’s teams are the first Ivy League duo to both advance in the NCAA Tournament after the men’s team upset second-seeded Arizona on Thursday.
“We watched that game and looked at each other and said, ‘All right, we’re next. It’s our turn,’” said Julia Cunningham, who had 14 points and eight assists for the Tigers.
Mimi Collins scored 14 points and Madison Hayes and Jaki Brown-Turner each had 10 points but the Wolfpack missed their final five shots and had five turnovers down the stretch.
“We got the shots that we wanted. Some of them rimmed in and out. They’re defense was good, but I feel like ... our shots just weren’t falling,” Collins said.
Aziaha James was the catalyst in pushing the Wolfpack’s (20-12) lead to 63-55 with a steal and back-to-back layups with 5:44 to play but they didn’t score again.
“It’s a tough loss. Heartbreaking,” North Carolina State coach Wes Moore said.
The Tigers scored the first 10 points of the third quarter but then went cold against the Wolfpack’s defensive pressure. North Carolina State regained the lead 55-51 by forcing 12 straight misses from Princeton over the final 6:52 of the period.
“We’ve gone through stretches where we’ve struggled to score and we know that our defense is going to keep us in games,” Stone said and cited their motto - ‘Defense Travels!’
The Wolfpack started the game missing point guard and leading scorer Diamond Johnson, who has an ankle injury that has been hobbling her for weeks. They seemed out of sorts and missed their first seven shots.
To make matters worse, her backup James, who got the start, suffered a lower leg injury with 9:21 left in the second quarter and had to be helped off the court. She later returned to spark North Carolina State.
But the Wolfpack used their physical advantage inside to stake a 41-35 halftime lead on the strength of post players Collins and Hayes both scoring 10 points off the bench in the first half.
The Tigers have now won 16 in a row heading into a matchup with host Utah (the second seed) on Sunday afternoon.
“Wow! Just so thrilled with that win. I mean, that’s what it’s all about,” Berube said as the Tigers advanced. “Now we just need to take that next step.”
Princeton: The Tigers used defense when their offense sputtered and came up big when it mattered most. The Tigers only allowed 52.5 points a game this year and their tenacity won the day even when they got down by eight points.
NC State: The Wolfpack arrived with their lowest seed since 2016-17 but seemed to have the talent and strength to control the game. But the Wolfpack couldn’t get clean looks when the Tigers got desperate and disruptive.