UNC follows up big upset with gritty win to end six-game skid vs. FSU

By R.L. Bynum

No matter how ugly it might have been, UNC’s women were happy to battle through it all to finally get a victory over Florida State.

It helped that sophomore guard Deja Kelly was pouring in the points, distributing the ball and playing solid defense.

The No. 24 Tar Heels didn’t play nearly as well as in their upset Thursday of No. 3 Louisville. But they pulled away with a 16–3 fourth-quarter run for a 64–49 win to snap a six-game losing streak against the Seminoles with their first win in Tallahassee, Fla., since 2014.

Carolina (21–5, 11–5 ACC) has 11 league wins for the first time since winning 14 in the 2012–13 season.

The Tar Heels are alone in fifth place, a game behind Notre Dame and Virginia Tech, and still have a shot at earning a double-bye in the ACC Tournament. If UNC sweeps its two games next week against Virginia and Duke and the Hokies lose to either Miami or N.C. State, the Heels would get a double-bye.

“My guys showed so much fight and so much grit and just so much connection,” UNC coach Courtney Banghart said. “It was one of our better wins, although it was one of the harder ones to watch at times. Super happy for our guys.”


Kelly scored 14 of her game-high 26 points and three of her season-high-tying five assists in the first half as the Tar Heels survived what could have easily been a trap game coming off the high of the win over the No. 3 Cardinals. 

“We enjoyed it for that night, maybe even that next morning, but then we’re like, ‘OK, we’re on to the next,’ and we know that we’ve got to win this game just like we did the last and that was our main focus,” said Kelly, who scored at least 25 points for the third time this season and second in ACC play after scoring 31 against Clemson.

It took four seconds for Kelly to take an Ustby pass and score a driving 3-point play, and she scored the game’s first five points. Kelly carried UNC offensively in the first half and, when that demanded more attention from defenders, she made Florida State  (14–12, 8–8) pay by finding open teammates.

“Deja’s gotten into that groove now where you look at her and there’s a fire in her eye about how important it is now,” Banghart said. “She’s getting to her spot with great pace. She’s playing much more aggressively and she’s distributing better because she’s drawing a lot of attention. 

“Offensively, I think the game is slowing down for her while she’s playing faster,” Banghart said. “I don’t think she gets enough credit for how she is defensively.”

Kelly played all 40 minutes for the third time in her career and second time this season (also at Boston College).

It was the 50th career game for UNC’s talented sophomore class, with Alyssa Ustby putting up her 11th double-double of the season and 14th of her career (12 points, 10 rebounds) and Kennedy Todd-Williams collecting 10 points and eight rebounds. Anya Poole, who Banghart said is a little “banged up,” pulled down 10 rebounds for her sixth double-digit rebounding game of the season.

“She knows she’s hot, but she’s gonna move the ball,” Ustby said of Kelly, who was 9 of 14 from the floor and 2 of 4 from 3-point range. “Obviously, the ball comes full circle and it came around and found her a couple of times at the end and she had some great 3-point shots that got her up to a big point game. We’ve got to find that balance of letting her do her thing and moving the ball and it’ll eventually get back to her.”

After a Todd-Williams jumper with 5:55 left in the first quarter, Kelly scored nine consecutive UNC points before a Todd-Williams drive more than 10 minutes later, with 5:51 left in the first half, put the Tar Heels up 20–14.

Kelly said that her three-point play in the opening seconds of the game set the tone for the game for everybody.

“I found my rhythm. I’m getting my spot. I was getting to the rim and knocked down a couple of 3s,” Kelly said. “In the second half, they really started collapsing and staying with me a little longer on the ball screen, so I was able to find my teammates and they were able to knock ’em down.”

It was the 12th time this season — and fourth time in ACC play — that the Tar Heels have held an opponent to fewer than 50 points. That’s the most since UNC did that 13 times in the 2006–07 season.

“They just stay in front of you,” Florida State coach Sue Semrau said. “They do a really good job of giving enough space that you don’t feel like you can get by but, at the same time, not enough space to shoot it.”

Banghart said that one of her team’s issues Sunday, when it went through scoring droughts, was the inability to quickly read the defense and time their actions right, adding that this wasn’t a problem for Kelly.

“We just kind of lost our vision a little bit,” Banghart said. “In this game, it’s a game of milliseconds and we took a millisecond too long to make our reads at times. And these guys were playing active defensively and we knew they were long.

“We didn’t attack the backside in transition well,” she said. “We were a little bit delayed on offense. And a lot of teams would have folded. We talked about being a great two-way team and the ball moved more, and we made a few shots. They trusted each other.”

Several players made big second-half shots, but Ustby pointed an inside bucket from reserve center Malu Tshitenge in the final seconds of the third quarter off of an Eva Hodgson pass that gave the Heels a 40–35 lead.

“Malu had a great pump fake knowing that this team likes to jump and try to block shots and she finished that layup,” Ustby said. “Those little key plays helped pick up the pace of the game and pick up our overall mood on the bench. And I think that was really a key play that helped us come out with that win.”

Ustby said there was “a lot of selfless basketball” in the fourth quarter when four of nine field goals were assisted.

Florida State went scoreless for the first 6:15 of the second quarter before River Baldwin’s inside bucket began a 6–0 Seminoles run to tie the game at 20.

Carlie Littlefield’s 3-pointer ended a more than 2½-minute UNC scoring drought with 2:12 left to regain the lead, and her jumper with six seconds left gave the Tar Heels a 25–22 halftime edge. UNC held FSU to eight second-quarter points.

After scoring two first-half points, Ustby got the ball on two of the first three possessions of the third quarter, scoring on two of them.

“In the first half, I was getting a lot of girls collapsing on me and my shot wasn’t feeling right,” Ustby said. “I didn’t have as many openings around the basket. So, I was trying to distribute more. So I was like, ‘Okay, into the second half be aggressive and see what happens.’ And those two possessions just happened to be where I was open.”

A Bianca Jackson 3-pointer and a Morgan Jones layup for the Seminoles tied it at 33 with 4:51 left in the third quarter. After Banghart called a timeout, UNC went small with Ustby at the 5.

“I thought we were scratching and clawing and doing some things,” Semrau said. “I thought they did a great job going to a smaller lineup. We couldn’t guard their penetration. At that point, when they were hitting those tough shots, and we couldn’t come in and knock down shots.”

Usby’s 3-pointer with 1:32 left in the third quarter ended a 6½-minute UNC field-goal drought to start a 5–0 run and go ahead 38–35 after FSU had taken a brief two-point lead.

FSU sliced the lead to one with a 9–2 early fourth-quarter run but Todd-Williams started a 9–0 UNC run on a follow shot. An Ustby 3-pointer and a Kelly jumper shoved the lead back to 10 with 5:08 left. 

Jones was the only Seminole to score in double figures with 11 points.

The Tar Heels play their final road game of the season Thursday at Virginia (ESPN3). The Cavaliers (4–20, 1–13), who ended a 14-game losing streak by beating Duke on Thursday 67–54, played at home against Pittsburgh on Sunday. UNC won the first meeting in Chapel Hill 61–52 on Jan. 20.

No. 24 UNC 64, FSU 49

ACC standings

UNC season statistics

DateScore, record/
day, time, TV
(current rank)
November (6–0)
992–47 win, 1–0HomeN.C. A&T
1489–33 win, 2–0RoadCharlotte
1789–44 win, 3–0HomeAppalachian State
2179–46 win, 4–0RoadTCU
2672–59 win, 5–0Bimini, BahamasX — VCU
2758–37 win, 6–0Bimini, BahamasX — Washington
December (6–0, 2–0 ACC)
182–76 win, 7–0RoadY — Minnesota
593–47 win, 8–0HomeJames Madison
12107–46 win, 9–0HomeUNC Asheville
15Game canceledHomeJacksonville
1976–63 win, 10–0, 1–0 ACCRoadBoston College
2183–47 win, 11–0HomeAlabama State
3079–43 win, 12–0, 2–0HomeSyracuse
January (4–4, 4–4 ACC)
281–62 win, 13–0, 3–0 ACCHomeClemson
672–45 loss, 13–1, 3–1RoadNo. 4 N.C. State
971–46 win, 14–1, 4–1HomeNo. 23 Virginia Tech
1670–64 loss, 14–2, 4–2RoadNo. 19 Notre Dame
2061–52 win, 15–2, 5–2HomeVirginia
2355–38 loss, 15–3, 5–3RoadNo. 16 Georgia Tech
2778–62 win, 16–3, 6–3RoadDuke
3066–58 loss, 16–4, 6–4HomeNo. 4 N.C. State
February (5–1, 5–1 ACC)
378–59 win, 17–4, 7–4RoadWake Forest
685–38 win, 18–4, 8–4HomeMiami
1064–54 win, 19–4, 9–4HomePittsburgh
1366–61 loss, 19–5, 9–5RoadNo. 23 Virginia Tech
1766–65 win, 20–5, 10–5HomeNo. 3 Louisville
2064–49 win, 21–5, 11–5RoadFlorida State
24Thursday, 7, ACCNXRoadVirginia
27Sunday, 4, ACCNHomeDuke
ACC TournamentGreensboro
ACCNX — ACC Network Extra (ESPN3); ACCN — ACC Network; X —Goombay Splash; Y — Big Ten/ACC Challenge

Photo courtesy of FSU Athletics

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