CANCUN, Mexico — Graduate senior guard Ciaja Harbison scored a season-high 34 points as Vanderbilt staged a furious second-half rally that fell short in an 82-73 loss to No. 13/11 NC State on Thursday at the Women’s Cancun Challenge at the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya.
Facing their first ranked opponent of the season, the Commodores (5-2) trailed by as much as 26 points midway through the third quarter before putting a scare into the Wolfpack (5-1).
Harbison finished 11 of 26 from the field and was a perfect 10 of 10 from the free throw line with six assists and two steals in 38 minutes.
Freshman Jada Brown scored a season-high 12 points, including going 4 for 4 from behind the 3-point line, for Vandy. Fellow freshman Ryanne Allen added 10 points.
NC State had four players finish in double-figures scoring, led by Jakia Brown-Turner with 18 points. Diamond Johnson had 16 points, nine rebounds and seven assists for the Wolfpack.
NC State jumped out to an early 15-4 lead, but Vandy eventually began matching the Wolfpack basket for basket. The Dores, who were making their debut in the event, stayed within striking distance, trailing 25-18 at the end of the first quarter following a jumper by Harbison.
Harbison opened the second quarter with a driving layup to cut the deficit to five points, but NC State embarked on a 15-0 run and held Vandy scoreless for nearly six minutes. The Dores finally ended the drought with two free throws by Allen, and NC State entered halftime with a 45-27 lead.
NC State’s lead peaked at 62-36 at the 4:45 mark of the third quarter before the Dores displayed their fighting spirit and began their comeback. Vandy used a 13-0 run bridging the third and fourth quarters to cut the deficit to 66-55 on a 3-pointer by Brown.
The Dores were within eight points with 32 seconds left on two free throws by sophomore Sacha Washington, but they couldn’t close the gap any closer and suffered their second straight loss after opening the season 5-0 for the first time since 2014-15.
Vandy shot 35.4 percent (23 of 65) from the field. After hitting only 3 of 13 3-point attempts in the first half, the Dores finished 10 of 25 from deep (40.0 percent). They were 17 of 19 from the free throw line.
Vandy forced 17 turnovers and converted them into 20 points. NC State outrebounded the Dores 43-27, blocked eight shots and had 22 assists compared to nine for Vandy.
Hot, Hot Harbison: The graduate transfer fell two points shy of matching her career high of 36 points, which came last season when she played for Saint Louis in an overtime win over St. Bonaventure.
Harbison was one shy of matching her career high of 12 field goals made, which also came in the victory over the Bonnies. Harbison’s previous season high was 28 points, which came in her Vanderbilt debut in the season opener against Western Kentucky.
Harbison has scored at least 22 points in four of Vandy’s seven games this season to boost her average to 19.1 per game. Her points have come without relying on the 3-point shot, as the Louisville native is 5 of 15 from deep this season.
Series history: Vandy dropped to 2-6 all-time against NC State. The Wolfack have won four straight in the series. Prior to Thursday, the teams last met in the 2018-19 season.
Holiday meal: At a time when most families were sitting down for their traditional Thanksgiving feast, the Dores were on the court. The team was treated to an outdoor dinner available to all resort guests once they were done playing.
Up Next: Vanderbilt concludes play in the Cancun Challenge on Friday against Northern Iowa at 5:30 p.m. CT (FloHoops).
Tickets: Students will continue to receive free admission to all home basketball games. In addition, single-game sales, mini-plans and group ticket options are available. To view the promotional schedule, click here.