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Texas women’s basketball muscles past NC State, 84-80, with late comeback

It wasn’t always the most aesthetically pleasing performance, but the Lady Longhorns gritted out the win.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big 12 Conference Tournament-Texas vs West Virginia Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

As the free throw rattled off the rim with the Texas Longhorns holding on to a two-point lead with less than 10 seconds remaining against the North Carolina State Wolfpack in the 2017 NCAA tournament, Texas freshman Joyner Holmes simply wanted the ball more.

The athletic wing tipped the ball to herself and then finished near the basket to secure the 84-80 victory in Austin that included a blown early lead by the Lady Longhorns and a fourth-quarter comeback just when it seemed like the Wolfpack might create game-changing separation.

The turning point came with just under seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter when freshman guard Alecia Sutton went down clutching her surgically repaired knee on a play that was eventually ruled as a questionable Flagrant 1 call against Texas that produced two made free throws and a long two from Wilson.

Then Spencer again, spinning and finishing through a foul to continue to NC State surge — a 7-0 run in the space of a minute of game time.

NC State scored inside, but senior guard Brooke McCarty helped keep Texas within striking distance with two made free throws following an aggressive drive and a long three pointer.

Two made free throws from junior guard Ariel Atkins with 1:32 remaining gave the ‘Horns the lead for the first time since early in the third quarter.

A foul off the ball on Miah Spencer for impeding a cut removed the NC State standout from the game with just over a minute remaining after scoring a career-high 31 points and torching the Texas defense throughout.

McCarty converted from the free-throw line to regain the lead, then a steal by Atkins extended the lead. Another steal by McCarty resulted in a missed shot by Atkins and a foul on the attempted putback — her fifth foul.

A sloppy possession resulted in a shot-clock violation coming out of a timeout, but Holmes stepped in front of NC State star Dominique Wilson to draw a crucial charge to negate a driving basket.

Then it was Holmes again coming up with the big play to secure the victory.

The bench helped provided a spark during the middle of the first quarter when Texas broke a 12-12 tie, aided by the shooting effort of Sutton, who made two jumpers and a free throw before dropping a dime to McCarty for a three pointer to extend the lead to 24-13.

At the end of the first quarter, the ‘Horns led 28-15 as the Wolfpack struggled from the field.

Then Spencer got hot for NC State, hitting a jumper, finishing through a foul and converting the free-throw opportunity, and then hitting on a layup.

Meanwhile, Texas got in foul trouble, with Holmes and Atkins picking up two apiece. Holmes also committed four turnovers in the first half as the Lady Longhorns struggled protecting the ball in general with 10 overall.

After scoring only nine points in the second quarter, Texas found the once-significant lead cut to a single point, 37-36.

The third quarter marked more issues with avoiding turnovers, as the ‘Horns turned the ball over six more times.

Spencer and star Dominique Wilson both continued to play extremely well for NC State, especially in breaking down the Texas defense off the bounce, but a late three by Holmes cut the lead to five going into the fourth quarter. Not only was the shot big for momentum purposes, it was only the second made three of Joyner’s college career.

Strong offensive rebounding helped produce a kick-out three pointer for McCarty and a physical layup by Holmes to tie the game at 64.

From there, the Longhorns did enough to finish out the victory.

Texas has now advanced to the Sweet 16 for the 14th time in school history and will face off on Thursday in Lexington against the winner of the Kansas State-Stanford game tomorrow.