No. 1 North Carolina State trailed No. 5 Notre Dame on Saturday from 7:43 mark of the second quarter until nearly the very end of the ballgame. The Fighting Irish needed to inbound the ball up one with 35 seconds left and convert at the free throw line to win.
But NC State’s Raina Perez stole the ball from Notre Dame’s Dara Mabrey and scored an open layup with 14.8 seconds left to give the Wolfpack a one-point lead. Notre Dame had one final chance to win late, but missed and the Wolfpack won, 66-63, after making a pair of free throws to advance to their first Elite Eight since 1998.
NC State outscored Notre Dame 20-10 in the fourth quarter and the Fighting Irish turned the ball over seven times, with the last one being the knockout punch.
The Fighting Irish used a strong second quarter to jump ahead — The Irish outscored NC State by 12 and hit 10 of their 13 shots in the period. Freshman guard Olivia Miles scored 15 first-half points including a trio of makes from behind the arc.
But in the fourth quarter, two steals from NC State’s Kai Crutchfield led to a quick five points and brought the Wolfpack to within two points. Notre Dame called timeout and eventually increased its lead back to eight, but the Wolfpack continued to chip away at the lead and cut its deficit down to two again.
It seemed like NC State had let the game yet away when Elissa Cunane split a pair of free throws and the team trailed by one, but Perez’s clutch steal helped the Wolfpack escape.
Saturday was NC State’s fourth straight Sweet 16 appearance, but the team failed to advance to the Elite Eight in the three previous chances, including last season when the top-seeded Wolfpack fell to No. 4 Indiana. NC State will face the winner of No. 2 U-Conn. and No. 3 Indiana on Monday for a spot in the Final Four.