RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Ashley Key scored a career-high 23 points to lead North Carolina State past Vanderbilt (No. 20 ESPN/USA Today, No. 19 AP) 76-67 on Wednesday night.
Billie McDowell added 12 first-half points in her first game back from offseason knee surgery for the Wolfpack (3-2), while Khadijah Whittington had 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Caroline Williams scored 18 points and hit six 3-pointers for the Commodores (5-2), who had their five-game winning streak stopped.
McDowell, a senior guard, averaged 11.2 points and was a third-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference performer last season before tearing her left anterior cruciate ligament in March. She was injured when she landed awkwardly on a jumper during the first half of the Wolfpack's first-round loss to Middle Tennessee in the NCAA tournament.
She had surgery in April and rehabbed through the summer, then practiced with the team on a limited basis. She gradually increased her workload until a team doctor cleared her to play Wednesday morning.
Wearing a bulky black brace on her left knee, she drew cheers as she went to the scorer's table to check in with 14:47 left in the first half.
Once she stepped onto the court, she smiled broadly as she jogged upcourt to join her teammates. She missed her first jumper from the left corner on her second possession but knocked down a 3-pointer off a feed from Sasha Reaves to tie it at 12 with 11:39 left before the break.
She went on to hit two more 3s in the next 2 minutes, the second putting N.C. State ahead to stay at 20-19 with 9:49 left. That basket started a 12-0 run, which ended when McDowell made her fourth 3 off a feed from Tiffany Stansbury for a 29-19 lead with 7:17 left.
The Wolfpack shot 50 percent to take a 37-27 halftime lead. N.C. State quickly increased that lead, using a 9-0 run and getting a pair of transition layups from Monica Pope to lead 50-31 with 15:35 left.
Vanderbilt never got closer than nine points until the final minutes, shooting just 42 percent for the game.