RALEIGH, N.C. -- Kellie Harper sat on the North Carolina State bench with a wide smile while her players celebrated and jumped around on the sideline as the clock steadily ticked down.
When the horn sounded, that sideline celebration spilled to midcourt while fans ran to join them.
Perhaps the last six weeks of frustration, hurt and even a few tears will make the Wolfpack's upset of highly ranked rival North Carolina a little sweeter than usual.
Amber White scored 23 points to help the Wolfpack beat the 13th-ranked Tar Heels 88-72 on Monday night, finally giving Harper's bunch a breakthrough victory after a series of morale-bending losses.
"We've been telling our kids all year to hang in there, we were going to get a big win, to keep fighting, it was going to happen," the second-year coach said. "And I thanked them after the game. I thanked them for believing and having faith in what our staff was saying because it finally paid off."
Bonae Holston added 13 points and 16 rebounds for the Wolfpack (12-15, 3-9 Atlantic Coast Conference), who bounced back after blowing a 14-point first-half lead and dominated the final 9½ minutes. It was the second straight year the Wolfpack split the season series with the Tar Heels (22-5, 8-4), who had won 19 of the previous 22 meetings.
N.C. State had experienced more than its share of heartache at Reynolds Coliseum this year. First came a two-point loss to Clemson in January in which Holston missed a shot for the lead with about 10 seconds left and Marissa Kastanek missed the front end of a one-and-one with a chance to tie.
About two weeks later, N.C. State blew a 20-point second-half lead on then-unbeaten Duke and missed two shots on a frantic final play in a 65-64 loss. And earlier this month, the Wolfpack lost to Virginia in four overtimes on a last-second shot.
"Our mentality was very good going into this game," Harper said. "We weren't going to back down. I think we've done that a little bit in the past. We kept our foot on the gas pedal. With about 4 minutes to go, we were still attacking."
It was a strong bounceback performance for White and Brittany Strachan, who combined to shoot 2 for 23 in last month's 83-76 loss in Chapel Hill. White went 7 for 13 and had six assists, while Strachan had 13 points and hit three 3-pointers.
Making it more impressive was the fact N.C. State won so comfortably while its top two players, Holston and Kastanek, struggled with their shot. Holston went just 4 for 18 from the floor, while Kastanek -- who had a career-high 30 points and six 3s in the first meeting -- had 10 points on 4 for 15 shooting and missed all seven of her 3-point tries.
The Wolfpack also set a program record for the fewest turnovers in a game with four, also impressive against a team that thrives on trapping pressure to start its transition game.
"It was exciting," Holston said. "I waited until the clock turned zero-zero-zero to kind of really celebrate. I wanted to stay focused, but after that, it was great when the students were on the court."
She'la White scored a career-high 20 points to lead the Tar Heels, who shot just 37 percent and committed 19 turnovers that the Wolfpack converted into 14 points. And while North Carolina took a 65-56 rebounding advantage, the undersized Wolfpack stayed close on the offensive glass and even had a 17-16 edge in second-chance points.
"They played with a lot of heart," North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "They just outplayed us, even when we came back and took the lead in the second half."
The Wolfpack ran off 21 straight points in the first half to take a 38-24 lead, only to see the Tar Heels erase that deficit and push ahead to a 55-52 lead on consecutive 3s from She'la White midway through the second half.
But N.C. State answered with the kind of run it hadn't been able to manage before, starting when Strachan knocked down the go-ahead 3 for a 57-55 lead with 9:20 left to start a 19-4 run.
Amber White scored seven points during the spurt, bouncing off She'la White in transition for an off-balance layup then following a few possessions later with a confident jumper that made it 72-59 with 4:49 left.
"Once we got the lead back, we kind of got settled in and comfortable with the lead," She'la White said, "which we can't do that."
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