Miami women’s basketball entered its first-ever Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament championship game knowing it had grown stronger in finishing off top-25 opponents, how much there was left to prove after falling to multiple in the regular season.
Instead, the collective fatigue of playing a fourth game in four days kept the Hurricanes from becoming the lowest-seeded team in conference history to win the ACC Tournament and shock the rest of college basketball.
Seventh-seeded Miami’s magical run through the conference tournament ended in a 60-47 loss to top-seeded NC State — winners of three straight ACC championships — at the Greensboro Coliseum in front of over 9,000 fans Sunday.
“They had a couple of amazing runs fueled by the crowd, fueled by emotion, and frankly our emotional fuel tank was a little empty on the fourth day,” Miami coach Katie Meier said. “If you’re ever going to have an empty fuel tank, I think it is on the fourth day after playing three amazing teams to get here and then playing the best team in the conference on the last day and asking your kids to defend their brains out.”
Facing a Wolfpack team that defeated all but one conference opponent this season, veteran guard Kelsey Marshall stepped up and led the Hurricanes with 24 points. Miami also outrebounded the No. 3-ranked Wolfpack 38-37 and scored 24 points in the paint, aside from NC State graduate forward Kayla Jones’ game-high 10 rebounds.
Marshall’s best scoring performance of the season wasn’t enough, however, as UM lacked other double-figure scorers.
“At some point emotionally on the offensive end, we got really empty. There’s no other way to say it,” Meier said. “The only one who kind of kept us in it was Kelsey, and I thought she played great and really was calling, demanding calls. And when Kelsey is at her best, she’s coaching with me. I thought she did a great job there.”
Miami (20-12) shot 3-for-19 from 3-point range and entered a seven-minute scoring drought in the third quarter. A 32-23 halftime advantage expanded for NC State (29-3), which capitalized on 21 points from its reserves for a 9-0 run and a 17-point lead, despite its 35% shooting.
“I don’t know you can defend that team any better than we did,” Meier said. “We held them to 60. If you told me we were going to have more points in the paint against them and they were only going to hit five threes and that we were also going to out-rebound them, I would think that we were out on the court right now with confetti on our heads.”
Although the Wolfpack made one of their final nine shots, a 17-point, eight-rebound effort from two-time ACC Tournament MVP center Elissa Cunane helped hold the Hurricanes to a double-digit deficit for the final 12 minutes of the afternoon. The senior headed into the locker room with a left-ankle injury in the third quarter, but returned in the fourth after reserve center Camille Hobby contributed with four quick points.
“I’m really glad [Cunane’s] okay because [the Wolfpack} represent our conference so well. [Head coach Wes Moore] does an amazing job. It is so hard to score against them, and I think people are saying that same thing about Miami,” Meier said. “But they’re a championship team all the way. I hope they’re not in our [NCAA Tournament] bracket. They’re really good.”
A week of recovery lies ahead for the Hurricanes, who still hold three top-20 victories in their last six contests, before finding out where they will compete in the first round of the NCAA Tournament next Sunday at 8 p.m. Miami remains in contention for the NCAA Tournament as a projected No. 9 seed in ESPN’s latest Bracketology projections.
“Nobody thought we would make it this far, and we did,” Marshall said. “[I am] extremely proud of my team, that we never gave up. We came in as underdogs and we showed people that we’re not the underdogs no more and we’re going to keep it rolling in the NCAA Tournament.”
Marshall, who broke Miami’s all-time 3-point scoring record against then-No. 5 NC State Jan. 9, earned ACC All-Tournament First Team recognition. The South Florida native, UM’s leading scorer for the second straight season, averaged 13.5 points and 2.8 assists per contest in the tournament.