Longhorns battle back from second-half deficit to advance to Sweet 16

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Freshman forward Joyner Holmes reaches for the ball in Sunday’s 84-80 victory over North Carolina State at the Frank Erwin Center.

Photo Credit: Carlos Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

The smallest girl on the court led the Longhorns to a huge victory Sunday at the Frank Erwin Center.

Junior guard Brooke McCarty poured in 23 points and shot 3-of-7 from beyond the arc as third-seeded Texas took down sixth-seeded North Carolina State, 84-80, in a down-to the-wire battle to advance to the NCAA Sweet 16 for the third consecutive year.

“I think it’s a standard,” McCarty said. “We come in and work hard every year and just this past year stringing along these Sweet 16s, it’s the standard here. This is what you do. So you come here to do this.”

A red-hot shooting performance earned Texas a 28-15 lead after the first quarter, but the Longhorns went ice cold for the next 20 minutes of play.

A small crowd dressed in red stood and cheered amongst a sea of fans in burnt orange as NC State opened up the second half with an 11-0 run. The Wolfpack stormed back from a 13-point first-half deficit to drop the Longhorns into a hole for most of the second half.

Senior guards Dominique Wilson and Miah Spencer led the Wolfpack on offense, combining for 58 points on 18-of-30 shooting.

“I just couldn’t be prouder of our team and in particular (Wilson and Spencer),” NC State coach Wes Moore said. “What unbelievable games. What unbelievable careers they’ve had. They have big hearts. They’re competitive, and they laid it all out there today. They’re warriors.”

Down by five with 10 minutes left to play, Texas showed it wasn’t ready for its season to end.

The Longhorns churned out 29 points and sunk 11-of-12 free throws in the fourth quarter to wrap up their final home game of the season with a victory.

But the last-second heroics belonged to freshman forward Joyner Holmes.

With eight seconds remaining and a one-point Texas lead, Wilson drove to the basket and drained a layup. A whistle was blown — Wilson thought she was headed to the free-throw line. She thought she had just won the game for the Wolfpack.

But instead, Wilson was called for an offensive foul. Holmes took the charge and the burnt-orange crowd rose to its feet in commotion.

“I just knew that her going downhill as fast as she was coming, I could have blocked the shot,” Holmes said. “But I just didn’t think that was the right decision at the time. I took the charge and I don’t do that often.”

Sophomore guard Lashann Higgs stepped up to the free-throw line with seven seconds on the clock, trying to give Texas a three-point lead. Higgs made the first, but her second attempt rolled off the rim.

But just as she’s done all season, Holmes made her presence known inside as she grabbed the offensive rebound and put the ball back in the basket, sealing the four-point victory for the Longhorns.

Holmes overcame three fouls and five turnovers to finish the day with 16 points and a team-high nine rebounds.

The Longhorns will head to Lexington, Kentucky, to take on either seventh-seeded Kansas State or second-seeded Stanford in the Sweet 16.