LADY VOLS’ COMEBACK AGAINST #11 NC STATE COMES UP SHORT, 79-72
Courtesy / UT Athletics

LADY VOLS’ COMEBACK AGAINST #11 NC STATE COMES UP SHORT, 79-72

RALEIGH, N.C. – No. 6 seed Tennessee erased all but two of a 20-point second-half deficit, but it came up just short in falling to No. 3 seed and 11th-ranked NC State, 79-72, Monday in the NCAA Second Round at Reynolds Coliseum.
 
UT fell behind, 51-31, just moments after the second half began, but it demonstrated resilience in trimming the gap to eight by the end of the third quarter. The Lady Vols eventually whittled the Wolfpack’s lead to two, 65-63, with 4:16 to play before the hosts staved off what would have been a monumental comeback.
 
Fifth-year forward Rickea Jackson fired in a season-high 33 points and added 10 rebounds, and fifth-year guard Jasmine Powell tossed in 13 in their final games for the Big Orange (20-13). Redshirt senior center Tamari Key, who has another year available but hasn’t announced her intentions, chipped in 10.
 
NC State (29-6) was led by four in double figures, including Aziaha James and Saniya Rivers with 22 and 20, respectively. Zoe Brooks tallied 16, while River Baldwin added 11.
 
The Wolfpack jumped on top early, 4-0, before Jackson answered with a jumper at the 9:01 mark in the opening stanza to get her team on the scoreboard. The NC State pushed the lead to 8-4 before the Lady Vols reeled off three consecutive long balls from Jackson, Sara Puckett and Jackson again to surge ahead 13-10 with 6:46 remaining. Jackson tallied twice more before the media timeout, sending UT into the 4:51 break with a 17-14 advantage on her 11th and 12 points of the opening five minutes. The Big Orange built a six-point lead, 23-17, on a jumper by Jewel Spear, a fast-break layup by Kaiya Wynn and another Jackson jumper, but NCSU stormed back with seven straight points to seize a 24-23 lead after one.
 
NC State came out of the quarter break on a roll, building a seven-point lead by the 8:33 mark, on a Collins jumper, and an eight-point advantage, 33-25, with 7:22 left on a Rivers bucket. UT responded with a layup from Jillian Hollingshead and a jumper by Jackson to trim the gap to four, 33-29, with 6:30 on the clock. The Wolfpack reciprocated with scores by Rivers and James to ratchet the lead back up to eight, 37-29, and force a Lady Vol timeout with 5:20 to go in the second stanza. Tennessee managed just one additional bucket before the intermission, as Puckett’s jumper brought the score to 39-31 with 3:16 to go. The home team, though, scored the next 10 points to close out the half with a 49-31 lead.
 
NCSU’s cushion ballooned to 20 at the outset of the third quarter on a Collins layup with 9:22 to go, but UT fought back and trimmed the lead twice to 15. The second occasion came on a Spear jumper that sent the teams into a media timeout at the 4:55 mark with the Lady Vols trailing, 53-38. UT scored again with 3:55 on the clock via a Key layup to make the score 53-40. After a Rivers three-pointer pushed the deficit back to 16 at the 3:30 mark, the Big Orange kept the pressure on. A Jackson layup, followed by a pair of free throws from Jackson and six straight charity tosses from Powell, pulled their team within eight, 58-50, to end the period.
 
A Key layup drew the Lady Vols within six, 58-52, 43 seconds into the final frame. NC State twice clawed back ahead by nine with the second time coming on a Brooks fast-break layup with 6:43 remaining. Tennessee, though, remained resilient and hacked away at the lead, getting a free throw from Jackson at the 6:34 mark, back-to-back buckets from Jackson at 5:25 and 4:54 and a layup underneath with 4:16 to go from Key to close the deficit to two, 65-63, carrying into the 3:44 media timeout. The Wolfpack got consecutive scores from James to push its lead back to seven, 70-63, with 2:48 to go before Key cut it back to five with a bucket inside to make it 70-65 with 2:28 remaining. A Jackson layup on the break made it a four-point game, 76-72, with 42 ticks left, but UT could never get over the hump.
 
KEA ENDS ON A VERY HIGH NOTE: Rickea Jackson registered a season-high 33 points against NC State, marking her fourth consecutive 20-plus point game, her 12th of 2023-24 and 28th as a Lady Vol, ranking fifth all-time at UT. Her 10 rebounds helped her record her fourth double-double of the season and the 14th of her career. She finished her college days with 2,259 points in 127 games to rank sixth all-time (including transfers) at UT and 1,174 in 60 games over two seasons at Tennessee to rank 35th for points scored only as a Lady Vol.
 
DOUBLE FIGURES FOR JAZZ: With 13 points against the Wolfpack, Powell tallied her 12th game with double-digit points this season and the 62nd of her career. She also tallied seven assists, six rebounds and a steal. She ran her total of dimes on the season to a career season-high of 136 and her collegiate total, including games played at Minnesota, to 554
 
KEY CLOSES SEASON WITH 10: Playing in the area where she grew up, Tamari finished with 10 points against NC State. The effort marked her fourth double-figure scoring effort of the 2023-24 campaign. She also blocked two shots vs. the Wolfpack, running her season number to 52 and her career total to 347. That career mark is a UT record and ranks sixth all-time in SEC history.

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