GREENSBORO — The real Senior Day might have come a few days late for N.C. State, but when it did come, it was oh so sweet for Wolfpack fans.
The active players in the Class of 2014 all came up huge Friday as the Wolfpack defeated Syracuse 79-63 in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament at Greensboro Coliseum.
Markeisha Gatling led the way with a career high 28 points and seven rebounds, Kody Burke added 21 points and a career high 16 rebounds and Breezy Williams came off the bench for nine points and six rebounds in 16 minutes in her most important performance of the season.
Freshman guard Miah Spencer added 10 points as the No. 4 seed and 14th-ranked Wolfpack (25-4) won its first game in the tournament for the fifth straight season.
N.C. State is hoping it wasn’t a costly victory, as Gatling was helped off the floor with an injury to her left knee with 8:19 left and the Wolfpack leading 64-49.
“I couldn’t be prouder of this group of kids,” said first-year Wolfpack coach Wes Moore, who said Gatling’s X-rays were negative but that she was scheduled for an MRI. “They’ve done this all year long. It’s not good for the head coach’s heart, but it sure is nice when you have a happy ending.
“They’ve battled so many times when they could have hung their heads and said, ‘This just isn’t our day.’ But they keep battling, keep fighting, hit a couple of shots and get a couple of stops and turn the game around.”
The Wolfpack had won the regular-season meeting 67-61 on Jan. 5 at Reynolds Coliseum in the Orange’s ACC debut. N.C. State’s regular-season finale and the official Senior Day resulted in an 84-60 loss on Sunday to unbeaten Notre Dame.
The Wolfpack is playing without senior guard Myisha Goodwin-Coleman, who suffered a torn ACL Feb. 20 at Duke, and senior forward Lakeesa Daniel who had a similar injury in practice the next day.
No. 5 seed Syracuse (22-9), which is a virtual lock for an NCAA tournament berth, had 10 players score but only sophomore guard Brittney Sykes in double figures with 14 points.
“Gatling is an unbelievable post presence,” said Orange coach Quentin Hillsman, whose team went 1-1 in its first ACC Tournament. “And she did a very good job of getting deep post position in the second half, and Wes did a great job of getting the ball inside to her.
“You have to give her a lot of credit, and give N.C. State a lot of credit for not laying down at halftime.”
N.C. State shot 44.4 percent to 34.3 for Syracuse, which was 6-for-17 from outside the 3-point arc in the first half and 3-for-15 in the second. The Wolfpack won the rebound battle 44-38.
Burke also had five assists in the contest, after receiving the Kay Yow Award – as the conference’s outstanding scholar-athlete for women’s basketball – before the game.
“My award was definitely a surprise,” Burke said. “I had no idea – I was lining up for the National Anthem and they told me to go to half court to accept the award.
“It definitely motivated me,” she added. “When I waved to the Wolfpack fans and see how we had their support, that definitely fired us up as well. ACC tournament is time for us to make a statement in the postseason.”
The start of Friday’s game had been rescheduled for an hour later because of the ice storm that hit the Triad on Thursday night.
And then the lights went out three times in a four-minute game clock span in the second half, but that coincided with the Wolfpack’s biggest run.
Syracuse led 38-31 at halftime, but the Wolfpack’s offense exploded after the break.
State scored 18 straight points, 12 of them from Gatling, after trailing 48-39 following a Brianna Butler 3-pointer with 15:39 to go.