Marissa Kastanek drives for the hoop as Elon’s Ali Ford defends.

REYNOLDS COLISEUM/RALEIGH N.C. State returns to action following a seven-day layoff during the exam period, and the 5-4 Wolfpack is badly in need of a win.

State is currently on a three-game losing streak that includes its worst home loss in the Kellie Harper era when Michigan State visited 10 days ago.

Today’s visitor is the underdog 3-3 Elon Phoenix, coached by one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the state. UNC alumna Charlotte Smith, who hit buzzer-beating winning shot for the Tar Heels in the 1994 NCAA title game, is in her second season at the Elon helm and coaching for the first time against an ACC opponent. Her uncle, David Thompson, has the only retired jersey in N.C. State men’s basketball history. Smith’s top assistant is Wolfpack alumna Cristy McKinney, a former head coach at Clemson.

Elon has two Wakefield High alumna on the roster in senior forward Kelsey Evans and freshman guard Lauren Hudson.

The Wolfpack never trails, but sees a big lead dissipate before getting it back again in an 88-73 victory.

State builds a huge early advantage, going up 26-4 on Myisha Goodwin-Coleman’s 3-pointer with 10:53 left in the half. But the Phoenix rises, cutting the margin to 42-34 at the break on Kelsey Harris’ bucket with 38 seconds remaining.

The Wolfpack shoots 51.5 percent in the first half to Elon’s 48.1. Elon leads the board battle 19-15, but commits 13 first-half turnovers to State’s nine.

The Phoenix cuts the lead to six, at 49-43 on a pair of Ali Ford free throws with 14:29 left, before the Wolfpack reestablishes control.

State’s biggest lead of the second half is 21, at 72-51 on Marissa Kastanek’s layup from Len’Nique Brown with 7:58 to go.

The Wolfpack places all five starters in double figures, as each has five field goals and shoots 50 percent or better.

Krystal Barrett leads the way with 14 points, followed by Goodwin-Coleman with 13, Kody Burke and Markeisha Gatling with 12 each and Kastanek with 11.

Ford leads Elon with 26 points including 10-for-10 from the line, while Zora Stephenson chips in 12 and Harris 11.
State shoots 54.1 percent from the floor to the visitors’ 39.7, wins the rebound battle 38-34 and commits 17 turnovers to Elon’s 18.

Len’Nique Brown dribbles on the fast break as Elon’s Jessica Farmer pursues.
  • Photo by Chris Baird
  • Len’Nique Brown dribbles on the fast break as Elon’s Jessica Farmer pursues.

They said it …
Harper: “I’m excited about the win. We had some bright spots. We definitely had some things we want to work on and correct this week, but the kids know what they need to do. That’s a good starting point. We took good shots and had a lot of assists. Our shooting was pretty efficient. Ashley Eli’s defense was really strong for us. She did a good job on Ali Ford. And we shared the ball well. … A coach in the Southern Conference has zero trouble motivating a team when they’re playing an ACC school. You just have to give them a game plan they can believe in.”

Smith: “When we got behind early that was an opportunity to either cave in or fight, so I’m just extremely proud of the fight we had tonight. After that we did a better job of slowing down and executing, and finding our options within the offense. We wanted to get deep within the offense to have to make them work defensively, and we did an outstanding job on the boards.”

Burke: “We can never take a win for granted. The fact we have this under our belt kind of boosts our confidence up a little bit. But there are still things we need to work on. We’ll focus on one game at a time and focus on the next one and hopefully get another win.”

Kastanek: “We had worked on a lot of stuff in practice. We worked on us a lot. I think it helped us more than anything, just boosting everybody’s confidence in what we can do. It does help that we had a week to prepare for this game. We’re going to be really tough on defense, get our turnovers down, take good shots and rebound well. That’s really a focus now.”

What does it all mean?
That State is good enough to weather a solid effort from a determined Southern Conference opponent, while Elon looks to be pretty resilient.

Stars of the game

1. Burke.
2. Barrett.
3. Ford.

Play of the game
Lakeesa Daniel’s hook shot from Ashley Eli to make it 56-43 with 12:10 to go.

State: Won 1.
Elon: Lost 1.

State leads 6-0.

Up next
Elon vs. Morgan State, Thursday, 7 p.m.
N.C. State vs. Presbyterian, Saturday, 2 p.m.