Epic comeback, 29 from Kelly, send No. 8 UNC to incredible win over No. 5 Iowa State

By R.L. Bynum

Coach Courtney Banghart’s UNC women’s teams have always been resilient and unrelenting no matter the odds, but her Tar Heels outdid themselves on Sunday night.

No. 8 North Carolina rallied from a 17-point first-half deficit with a 23–3 second-half run and withstood a late run by No. 5 Iowa State for a 73–64 victory for the Phil Knight Invitational championship at the Moda Center in Portland, Ore.

Many teams would have wilted when everything was going wrong, as they were when UNC shot only 21% in the first half. Not these Tar Heels. Not if Deja Kelly had anything to do with it. Not in the program’s first top-10 clash in nearly nine years.

Kelly scored 29 points — 22 in the second half — and eight rebounds, both season-highs, after going 1 of 9 in the first half. Kennedy Todd-Williams scored all 17 of her points and three 3-pointers in the second half as the talented Cyclones were put on their heels.

Asked to comment on her team’s performance, Banghart replied, “which game?” because the halves were so different, with UNC shooting 65.4% in the second half.

“We’re watching them become a team, right in front of our very eyes,” Banghart said. “We’re watching that happen. Typically, it happens in the locker room or on the practice court. We got better this weekend, and that was our goal. This, by no means, cements the season. It just gives you an opportunity to know where you are.”

The Tar Heels gradually cut away at the lead before erasing it with that epic run. When Iowa State stormed back with an 11–4 run to tie it at 64 with 56 seconds left, Carolina (6–0) scored the last nine points of the game. This came after the Tar Heels rallied from an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat No. 18 Oregon 85–79 in the first round on Thursday.

Kelly, the tournament MVP, drove for a basket to retake the lead with 35 seconds left. She put the game away by sinking a pair of free throws with 30 seconds left and two more with 27 seconds left. She scored as many points from the free-throw line as the Cyclones (5–1), going 11 of 15.

“As y’all saw, the shots were not falling for me offensively in the first half,” said Kelly, who had four assists and no turnovers. “But, luckily, from my coaches and my teammates, they were saying in my ear to stay confident and to just keep shooting. And just me having that self-talk as well. I know that I put the work in, and I know what I’m capable of. So I knew that they were going to fall eventually.”

They did, in fact, as the nation is finding out why Kelly is a special player, something Banghart’s known for a long time.

“Her handle is among the best I’ve seen,” Banghart said of Kelly. “So, she can get to her spot. And she can comfortably scan the floor and get into contact in a way that makes her really special. So that’s huge.”

Just as big was getting Todd-Williams going after Banghart said that “she had seatbelts on” in the first half.

“I needed her to loosen up,” Banghart said. “She cares so much. We also needed her to shoot the ball. We needed her to create off the dribble. And she just was huge in the second half.”

Alyssa Ustby had her typical all-around good game with 14 points, nine rebounds, 2 assists, two blocks and three steals. Eva Hodgson, who played all 40 minutes, scored 11 points and two 3-pointers with three rebounds, five assists and three steals.

Banghart said that the comeback had a lot to do with the trust that goes throughout the team, whether it be players, coaches or the support staff, because of the amount of work they all put in. As a result, the women’s basketball world knows that the Tar Heels are never going to give up, regardless of the score.

“I think we’ve had a lot of resiliency; we’ve been hard to beat,” Banghart said. “I’m proud of how much they’re trusting this process. And that’s what you see when you don’t give up. You trust that, ‘we got this.’ Might not win it, but we’re gonna be hard to beat. And that’s what we were tonight.”

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As is often the case, Carolina won it with tough defense, holding Iowa State to 13% shooting in the fourth quarter after the Cyclones shot 40.3% in the first three quarters. Cyclones star Stephanie Soares scored a team-high 19 points, but only had five after halftime. She picked up her fourth foul with 6:28 left in the third quarter and Iowa State leading 41–27.

Carolina blocked a season-high 10 shots, led by three from redshirt freshman Teonni Key in 14 minutes, and forced 17 turnovers.

After taking a 26–11 lead after one quarter, Iowa State scored the first nine points of the second quarter and pushed the lead to 17 on a pair of Ashley Joens free throws with 3:57 left in the first half. Carolina finished the first half with a 7–3 run to trim the Cyclones’ halftime lead to 35–22.

“The shots weren’t falling at all,” Todd-Williams said of the first half when she said the team passed up some good shots. “We leaned on each other, and we knew the second half, we had to come out stronger than we were. Once we saw those balls go inside the hoop, we just knew. We’re an aggressive team, so we have to get in a rhythm and rolling from there.”

Banghart said that her team seemed hesitant on offense in the first half. But she never called a timeout in the first half, even when it was all going awry.

“We knew that if we’re going to win this thing, it was going to be a possession game because you can’t go down 17 and then up by 17,” Banghart said. “Every media timeout, I was saying the same thing — stop being hesitant, shot-ready, get ready on your catch, move the ball, contact and pace. So if I call timeout, I’m just gonna say the same thing. And O can say it a little differently in the privacy of our locker room.”

Whatever Banghart said at halftime, it worked.

UNC cut the lead to 10 for the first time in more than 14 minutes with 4:54 left in the third quarter after 3-pointers from Kelly and Todd-Williams. After cutting the lead to 53–45 by the end of the third quarter, the Tar Heels scored the first 14 points of the final quarter.

A Kelly layup with 6:10 left capped that 23–3 UNC run to give them a six-point lead with 6:10 left as Iowa State missed five consecutive 3-point attempts.

NOTES — UNC heads back to Chapel Hill for two days before traveling to Bloomington, Ind., to meet No. 6 Indiana (7–0) at 6 p.m. Thursday (Big Ten Network). The Hoosiers, who beat Memphis 79–64 Saturday victory in Las Vegas, won on Nov. 14 at then-No. 4 Tennessee 79–67. … In the PKI consolation game, Oregon rebounded from losing to UNC with a 63–57 win over Michigan State. … Banghart’s kids — sons Tucker and Eli and daughter Grey — took turns holding a small camera for ESPN during the broadcast. …  Carolina is 22–19 in top-10 clashes after its first victory since No. 8 UNC beat No. 4 Duke on Feb. 9, 2009. … Under Banghart, the Tar Heels are 6–0 in neutral-site Thanksgiving tournaments.

No. 8 UNC 73,
No. 5 Iowa State 64


Phil Knight Invitational

Thursday’s first-round results
No. 8 North Carolina 85, No. 18 Oregon 79
No. 5 Iowa State 80, Michigan State 49
Sunday’s results
Consolation: No. 18 Oregon 63, Michigan State 57
Championship: No. 8 North Carolina 73, No. 5 Iowa State 64


DateMonth/dayTime/scoreOpponent/event
(current ranking)
LocationTV/record
November
9WednesdayW, 91–59Jackson StateHome1–0
12SaturdayW, 75–48TCUHome2–0
16WednesdayW, 93–25South Carolina StateHome3–0
20SundayW, 76–65James MadisonHarrisonburg, Va.4–0
Phil Knight Invitational
24ThursdayW, 85–79OregonPortland5–0
27SundayW, 73–64No. 21 Iowa State Portland6–0
DecemberACC/Big Ten Challenge
1ThursdayL, 87–63No. 2IndianaBloomington, Ind.6–1
7WednesdayW, 64–42UNCWHome7–1
11SundayW, 99–67WoffordHome8–1
16FridayW, 89–47USC UpstateHome9–1
Jumpman Invitational
20TuesdayL, 76–68No. 12 MichiganCharlotte9–2
ACC season begins
29ThursdayL, 78–71No. 19
Florida State
Home9–3, 0–1 ACC
January
1SundayL, 68–65No. 11
Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, Va.9–4, 0–2 ACC
5ThursdayL, 62–58MiamiCoral Gables, Fla.9–5, 0–3 ACC
8SundayW, 60–50No. 10
Notre Dame
Home10–5,
1–3 ACC
12ThursdayW, 70–59VirginiaCharlottesville, Va.11–5,
2–3 ACC
15SundayW, 56–47No. 22 N.C. StateHome12–5,
3–3 ACC
19ThursdayW, 61–56No. 9 DukeHome13–5,
4–3 ACC
22SundayW, 70–57Georgia TechHome14–5,
5–3 ACC
26ThursdayW, 72–57PittsburghPittsburgh15–5,
6–3 ACC
29SundayW, 69–58ClemsonClemson16–5,
7–3 ACC
February
2ThursdayW, 73–62VirginiaHome17–5,
8–3 ACC
5SundayL, 62–55LouisvilleLouisville17–6,
8–4 ACC
9Thursday7 p.m.SyracuseSyracuseACCNX (ESPN3)
12SundayNoonBoston CollegeHomeACCNX (ESPN3)
16Thursday8 p.m.No. 22 N.C. StateRaleighACCN
19Sunday4 p.m.Wake ForestHomeACCN
23Thursday8 p.m.No. 11
Virginia Tech
HomeRSNs
26SundayNoonNo. 9 DukeDurhamRSNs
March
ACC Tournament
1–5Wednesday–SundayTBATBAGreensboroACCN Wed.-Sat.; final on ESPN or ESPN2
You can buy tickets to home games here. ACCN means the game airs on ACC Network. ACCNX means that the game is only streaming on ACC Network Extra (ESPN3.) RSNs means the game airs on regional sports networks (in many cases, Bally Sports but also MASN, NESN and Yes Network.)

Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications

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