A Coach’s First Season: NC State Survives Columbia

January 4, 2010
By Cherry Crayton

Senior guard Nikitta Gartrell had 15 points and junior forward Tia Bell added 14 points and 10 rebounds as the Wolfpack women’s basketball team escaped with a 60-58 win over Columbia to close out its non-conference schedule Monday night in Reynolds Coliseum. (Go to GoPack.com for a box score and alternative game recap.)

In a game that featured nine ties and 12 lead changes, NC State trailed Columbia 58-57 with 1:11 left when Bell was fouled after grabbing a defensive rebound. She made both free throws to give NC State the go-ahead lead, and junior guard Amber White (4 points, 5 assists) added another free throw with 36 seconds left. Columbia missed two shots in the final 36 seconds, and NC State senior Sharnise Beal blocked a long jump shot as time expired to preserve the victory.

“I do not want to downplay Columbia’s basketball team. . . . That’s a good team,” first-year NC State head coach Kellie Harper. “With that being said, I’m not extremely pleased with our play tonight.”

Against a team that used zone, man-to-man and full-court pressure defenses, NC State shot just 33.8 percent (22 of 65) from the floor and missed all 13 of its 3-point attempts. The Pack were also outrebounded 49 to 45 (the Lions’ Judie Lomax had 20 of them alone) and gave up 17 second-chance points. But the Lions shot even more poorly than NC State – at 31.8 percent (21 of 66) – and they missed their final eight shots from floor. Columbia scored just two points, which came on free throws, in the final five minutes.

“I felt like we had a little bit of gumption about us [at the end],” Harper said. “. . . .There wasn’t great execution on either end in late in the game, but we found a way to get a stop and get a win.”

In the last 36 seconds alone, Columbia’s 5-foot-1 Sara Yee drove the lane to create an open layup. Though Yee missed the layup, the Lions’ Judie Lomax grabbed the offensive rebound and found Yee open  on the baseline for a short jumper. She missed the shot and the two teams batted the ball around before it landed out-of-bounds off an NC State player with about 12 seconds left. Columbia called a timeout. What strategy did Harper give the Pack during the timeout? Gartrell said:

We knew we had to play man-to-man defense, . . . [I]t was either make it or break it. . . . As far as jobs go, if you [are guarding a player that penetrates], you try to contain her and keep her in front. And the people on the shooters, do not help off. That was the strategy we had, and we had a sense of urgency.

On the ensuing possession, NC State swarmed the Lions and Gartrell swatted the ball away as a Columbia player tried to dribble into the paint. Players from both teams scraped to get the loose ball. It ended up in the hands of the Lions’ Kathleen Barry near the 3-point line with about 3 seconds left. Barry, who scored a game-high 18 points, quickly released a shot. Not even within a second, Pack senior Sharnise Beal forcefully blocked the ball and punched it into the backcourt as time expired.

“We didn’t come up with several of those loose balls there. I thought we could have, but I thought we had some fight in us,” Coach Harper said. “. . . .[As] I told the players, “The way I figure it, if you play ugly and you win, if you did that 20 times, you still got 20 wins. So we’ll take a win any day.”

NC State, which improves to 10-5, opens ACC play against Maryland Thursday at 7 p.m. in Reynolds. Georgetown drops to 8-5.

Notes: NC State sophomore forward Bonae Holston had 10 points and four blocked shots, a career high. . . . NC State senior Sharnise Beal, whose playing time has been limited as she continues to recover from an off-season knee surgery, had five points in seven minutes of play. . . . Senior Judie Lomax had 16 points and 20 rebounds to lead Columbia, and Kathleen Barry added a game-high 18 points. . . . Columbia sophomore Melissa Shafer, who was a standout at Raleigh’s Cardinal Gibbons High School, came off the bench to score six points. . . .

Post-game comments from NC State Coach Kellie Harper

On the play of Columbia
First of all, I do not want to downplay Columbia’s basketball team. . . . That’s a good team. They are well coached. They obviously have a post presence. They have shooters. And they know what they’re doing. They play hard. . . . They haven’t lost many and event the couple they’ve lost, they’ve had close games. So, they know how to play. With that being said, I’m not extremely pleased with our play tonight. I thought we had too many breakdowns on the defensive end. Too many times they had shooters open. Obviously the rebounding tonight is an issue. .  . We did not shoot the ball well and that hurt our offensive execution. But, with all that being said, I told the players, “The way I figure it, if you play ugly and you win, if you did that 20 times, you still got 20 wins. So we’ll take a win any day.” . . . . Every game I played in college [at the University of Tennessee], we were the opponent’s biggest game. Every single game. A good team, a really good team, goes out and plays their best regardless. When you’re not doing something well — shooting well — you have to find ways to be good. You have to be that much better on the defensive end or that much better on the boards. I think sometimes that so-to-speak success that people have a hard time handling you have to realize that if you’re in the ACC, and it doesn’t matter where you fall in the ACC, if you’re in the ACC, it’s a big for non-conference opponents. We’re not only representing our program and our school; we’re representing the ACC in those situations. And you have to come to play.

On her team’s offensive performance
We weren’t shooting well, and they were packing it in so we couldn’t get easy looks inside. We tried in the second half, late, to run a lot of sets to try to manufacture points, so to speak. We weren’t letting our kids flow in the offense because we weren’t scoring. I don’t enjoy calling a play every time down the floor, but I thought that’s what we had to do. I think we have to be able to make open shots, at least consistently. And we will. But those type of games, when you’re not shooting well, you have to find other ways to help the team. And some of our kids did that, and some struggled with that tonight.

On her team’s defensive performance and giving up what she said were too many open shots
I think part of it was our communication and part of it was our transition defense and just not matching up from the start. We talked about that at halftime, and we had to talk about it in several timeouts after that. I think the last couple of possessions I said, “Absolutely these kids don’t get free right now.” That’s an area where we’re really going to break down the film and find out where those breakdowns occurred. I felt like it was just a lack of communication

On the last few minutes of play
I felt like we had a little bit of gumption about us. We had some want to. We didn’t come up with several of those loose balls there. I thought we could have, but I thought we had some fight in us. I’m proud of us. I thought our body language mid-way through the second half was not good. I thought we looked defeated, and we got out it. Sometimes that’s hard to do. So, I’m proud of our kids for that. There wasn’t great execution on either end in late in the game. But we find a way to get a stop and get a win.

On a quick assessment of her team through 15 games so far
I don’t have a feel for right now how consistent we’re going to be when we take the floor. We’ve been a little up and down. If we were playing a little more consistently, I would have a better feel [of where we are]. We have shown at times that we are a good basketball team, and we have shown at times that we have a lot to work on. So if we can lean toward that better team, if we can find some consistency, I would feel a lot better. . . . I wish we could have had a couple of more. I think a couple more would be really good for us . . . and would have put us in a really good spot right now.

On biggest areas of growth heading into ACC
Turnovers have been an issue for me recently. It wasn’t pretty tonight, but we had only 13. That’s probably pretty good for us, but it’s an area that we’ve got to get better in. We’ve got to be consistent to not turn the basketball over. I still think we can execute offensively better. I think we can be more efficient. I feel like we’re moving toward that . . . I felt pretty confident about our defense until tonight. So we’re going to make those corrections and get that back on track. . . .I think our shot selection is part of the efficiency on offense. To be a great shooting team you have to take high-percent shots every single time down the floor. There were several times tonight we weren’t taking high-percentages shots. And in this game, every basket mattered. I don’t want our players ever feeling scared to shoot it, but they need to know that if I can get this shot later in the shot clock, let’s work for this shot now. And we’re still learning. A few people have it. They know when to shoot the basketball and we have a few still learning.

On expected difference of play in the ACC
I think size would the first. We’re not going to play against anybody smaller than us from here on out. I think [size] and physical—those two things will be two of the biggest differences for some of our opponents.

Post-game comments from junior forward Tia Bell, who had 14 points and 10 rebounds

On how she would describe the game against Columbia
It was an emotional roller coaster. . . .I think we expected them to come out the way that they did and for this game to be – not as close – but close. . . . Last year, [Columbia] was our first game without Coach Yow, and I think we wanted to make a statement. I’m scared of how to word it, but we might have more motive [last year]. We knew they were scrappy and hard workers, and we wanted to match that and even play harder.  . . . Their style of play was very scrappy. We can be passive sometimes and settle for jump shots. There were probably some spurts where we did that. But toward the end, we began to attack.

On the play of Columbia’s Judie Lomax, who had 16 points and 20 rebounds
She’s a great rebounder. I was telling a couple of my teammates earlier that we played together in junior high school. She has a feel for the ball. I commend her on her game. I expected her to have a great rebounding game, and we kind of wanted to prevent from getting her average, but she came with 20, and I know that will be a big emphasis in practice tomorrow – boxing out.

On looking toward ACC play
Being 10-5 isn’t bad considering what we’ve been through. I think we’d like to be undefeated, but sometimes, it doesn’t work out that way. We’ve lost that games within about 20 points total, and I think we can definitely learn from that and about how to win those close games. She knows that the competition level will raise, so leaving shooters like tonight will not settle in the ACC. We know we have to pick it up and play hard and start games off [better].

On what she learned from tonight’s game

To box out. Even at the end we were tapping the ball around. Boxing out will help in the ACC.

Post-game comments from senior guard Nikitta Gartrell

On the last 13 seconds of the game
We knew we had to play man-to-man defense. Like coach said at the end of the game, it was just so shocking to her to see so many wide open shots throughout the game, and I think at the end of the game, it was either make it or break it. They were only down by two, so we didn’t want to give up the three. And if they got a two, it was overtime. Everybody was tuned into what to do. . . . As far as jobs go, if you [are guarding a player that penetrates], you try to contain her and keep her in front. And the people on the shooters, do not help off. That was the strategy we had, and we had a sense of urgency.

A random non-game-related note

At halftime of the NC State-Columbia game, the Tri-Force jump rope team performed. Among the members of the team is Tyler Perez ’08. He was one of eight NC State students we featured in a lengthy story about the sport of jump rope in the summer 2007 issue of NC State magazine. Check out our special Web feature on jump rope, where you can find a link to the full print story, profiles of the eight current or former NC State students who have won more than 60 national and world titles in the sport, and exclusive video of the students practicing. Here’s the teaser text from the Web feature:

Think about the last time you jump roped. Was it on an elementary school blacktop singing “Cinderella dressed in yellow”? The day after a visit with a heart doctor? Whenever, it probably wasn’t anything like the last time Kristen Bailey, Suzanne Cash, Joe Edney, Anna Holdaway, Ted Lehman, Timothy Martin, Tyler Perez and Lauren Perdue jumped. They’re the eight current or incoming NC State students who have won, among them, more than 60 national and world titles in what very well could be a future Olympic sport—jump rope.

Have a question for Coach Harper or for any of the players or assistant coaches? Let us know what it is by leaving a comment or sending us an e-mail. We’ll be sure to ask it.

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