RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — It wasn't that long ago that North Carolina State coach Wes Moore was lamenting his players' lack of urgency or attention to the details that helped them win three straight Atlantic Coast Conference championships.
He's finding more reasons for optimism after earning a second win against a top-10 opponent this season.
Diamond Johnson scored 20 points and the 20th-ranked Wolfpack beat No. 7 Notre Dame 69-65 on Sunday, earning a win that came despite blowing most of a 16-point third-quarter lead.
Mimi Collins added 13 points for the Wolfpack (16-5, 6-4 Atlantic Coast Conference), whose defense frustrated Notre Dame for a long stretch during the second and third quarters to build the big lead. Then Johnson and the Wolfpack kept coming up with needed plays as the Fighting Irish (17-3, 8-2) made a fourth-quarter push.
“We just had to hold our composure,” Johnson said.
For Moore, it was just as much about everything else his team has shown compared to early January.
“For the most part, I do think we’ve had a little more urgency on defense and we’ve bought into trying to take away other team’s strengths,” Moore said. “Hopefully we can continue to grow in that area and get better at it.”
After trailing 50-34, Notre Dame pulled to within 62-59 on back-to-back 3-pointers from Cassandre Prosper — both coming off feeds from Olivia Miles and from right in front of her own bench — midway through the fourth. Sonia Citron followed a few minutes later with a driving score past Madison Hayes, pulling the Irish to within 65-63 with 2:32 left.
But Johnson answered by getting a step inside her defender and calmly knocking down a jumper near the right elbow. She followed with two free throws that pushed the lead back to six, enough of a margin for the Wolfpack to close this one out.
“I felt like Diamond Johnson really just took over,” Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey said. “She was fantastic.”
Maddy Westbeld had 19 points and 13 rebounds to lead Notre Dame, which shot just 38% and made 6 of 23 3-pointers (26%).
The Irish entered Sunday tied with No. 16 Duke atop the ACC standings, though the Blue Devils lost at Florida State after tipoff in Raleigh — which gave Notre Dame a chance to claim sole possession of the league lead.
Notre Dame: Ivey is having to sort out lineup challenges after losing graduate guard Dara Mabrey to a season-ending knee injury last weekend. The Irish was also down Lauren Ebo for this one. She sat on the bench with a protective boot on her right foot with what Ivey said has been a lingering issue.
“I'm learning as I go with what I have,” Ivey said. “My top six, especially with my core starters, they know my expectation of them. I know what to do with them. It's just adding different pieces and kind of trying to ... simplify things with such different adjustments with injuries.”
N.C. State: The Wolfpack had split the past six games, starting Jan. 5 with the home loss to Boston College that had Moore so despondent afterward. But that has morphed into a three-game win streak after following up a home win against Miami and a win at Louisville.
“We wanted to say ‘No more,’” Collins said of the team's play after January losses.
N.C. State held Notre Dame to 4-for-23 shooting with nine turnovers during a roughly 15-minute stretch to build its big lead. ... The Wolfpack shot 45% and finished 7 of 17 from 3-point range. ... Notre Dame has lost both of its games in the state of North Carolina going back to a Jan. 8 loss at UNC. ... Westbeld's rebounding total was a season high while she also had five assists, two steals and a block.
Notre Dame: At Boston College on Thursday.
N.C. State: At Georgia Tech on Thursday.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap
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