Cunane scored 23 points and a dozen players scored to help the fourth-ranked N.C. State beat No. 16 Duke 84-60 on Sunday, keeping the Wolfpack unbeaten in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“I’m used to this time a year really trimming down the rotation a lot,” coach Wes Moore said. “I’m trying not to do that as much, especially in light of what happened last year. … I’ve tried to make sure if I can that we’ve got other people ready to step in and have at least been through it some and have the confidence hopefully to step in and do that.”
Moore is referring to losing veteran forward Kayla Jones to a knee injury in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, with the No. 1-seeded Wolfpack being upset in the Sweet 16. He’s hoping the Wolfpack (16-2, 7-0 ACC) can survive a bad break with its perimeter depth around a preseason ACC player of the year in the 6-foot-5 Cunane.
Performances like this, which began with a dominating first quarter, indicate his team has a chance.
“It’s basically just coming in and doing the little things, taking care of the ball and playing hard when your number is called,” said Jada Boyd, who had 10 points and seven rebounds off the bench.
N.C. State won its 15th straight game against league opponents dating to last season, which includes a three-game run to a second straight ACC Tournament title. The Wolfpack steadily pulled away early, leading by double figures in the first period and pushing that margin to 23 points before halftime.
The Blue Devils (11-4, 2-3) had more turnovers (11) than made baskets (eight) in the first 20 minutes to fall behind 42-22.
“I honestly just thought early it was the turnovers that really put us on our heels,” Duke coach Kara Lawson said. “It felt like they were playing transition offense the whole first half.”
The Blue Devils warmed up after halftime to finish the game shooting 36%, though they also committed 17 turnovers that led to 20 points for the Wolfpack. N.C. State never let that second-half margin slip to fewer than 14 points again.
Duke: The Blue Devils limped into nearby Raleigh after a second double-digit loss to Virginia Tech in two weeks. They didn’t have two starters in that one, with Texas transfer Celeste Taylor out with her left arm in sling, while Texas Tech transfer Lexi Gordon missed the game due to health protocols. Taylor was out again Sunday as the team’s No. 2 scorer at 11.7 points, while Gordon (9.8 points) returned with seven points on 2-for-10 shooting.
N.C. State: The Wolfpack’s run has now included 12 straight regular-season league wins, with 10 of those coming by margins of at least 19 points. N.C. State added Duke to its its list of wins against AP Top 25 opponents this year, joining No. 6 Indiana, No. 8 Maryland and No. 21 North Carolina. And Moore’s club has its second 7-0 start in four seasons, the other coming during an 8-0 start in 2018-19.
Freshman Shayeann Day-Wilson scored 14 points to lead the Blue Devils as she broke out of some recent struggles. She had averaged 8.3 points and made 6 of 27 shots since missing the Virginia Tech loss on Dec. 30 due to COVID-19 protocols, but made 6 of 14 against N.C. State.
“I was on fire before I went into COVID protocol, and I’m just trying to get back my rhythm slowly,” Day-Wilson said. “So seeing a lot of shots go in, getting my teammates involved, that will help me.”
Raina Perez scored 10 points for the Wolfpack, one of seven players to score at least seven. … N.C. State shot 47% and finished with a 45-38 rebounding advantage. … This matched the biggest margin of defeat for Lawson at Duke. Her first team lost by 24 to Louisville last season before opting out of the season amid the pandemic after four games. … The Wolfpack’s four turnovers were the fewest in program history for a Duke opponent.
Duke: At Miami on Tuesday night.
N.C. State: Hosts No. 3 Louisville on Thursday night in a matchup of the ACC’s top teams.