By R.L. Bynum
Back at Carmichael Arena for the first time in 18 days, North Carolina’s women’s basketball team continued to put up video game numbers. When should you release the button on 3-pointers? The Tar Heels mastered that.
James Madison was the latest victim as UNC scored the game’s first 12 points on its way to a 93–47 victory Sunday to push the Tar Heels’ unbeaten streak to eight. The team that was fourth in the country in scoring margin coming into the game added a 46-point win.
“I was so glad to be back home,” said Coach Courtney Banghart, whose team hasn’t trailed in a home game this season. “This group’s been through quite a journey over the last couple of weeks. I was excited for Carmichael to see the growth of this team. I thought it was the best we’ve had all year at sharing the basketball, which led to obviously great, great shots.”
James Madison (3–5) held opponents to 26.5% shooting from 3-point range before Sunday but the Tar Heels made a season-high 10 on 15 attempts and six players notched 3s, led by Deja Kelly with three. The 66.7% 3-point shooting was the best in a game in the country this season when a team has at least 10 3-pointers.
Banghart said the perimeter success had a lot to do with good ball movement.
“When you move the ball, you get great shots,” Banghart said. “That requires vision and it requires a skill set. And our guys really were able to find each other in open opportunities, therefore everyone’s efficiencies are better.”
After only six players played over most of UNC’s big win Wednesday at Minnesota, all 11 Tar Heels played and each player scored and had at least two rebounds. The 93 points were a season-high as Carolina is now averaging 81.8 points per game. UNC dished out a season-high-tying 23 assists, led by seven from Eva Hodgson and four from Kennedy Todd-Williams, who had her usual good defensive game.
None of them played better than Kelly. The sophomore guard scored 15 of her game-high 21 points in the first half and continues to show improved play from a year ago on defense.
“Last year, we had to hide her in all kinds of different ways,” Banghart said, comparing Kelly’s defense to last season, adding that this season she’s playing the right defensive angles and gaps and blocking out. “The kid wants to be great. And the only way you can be great is to continue to add layers to your game.”
Kelly’s offense has been consistent as she’s scored in double figures in each game and leads the team at 16.4 points per game. But her play on the other end has been big for the Tar Heels.
“I’m just really locking in on that end and knowing that I have to be a two-way player,” Kelly said. “And Coach Banghart really emphasized that for me and really showed me film on where I need to get better as far as my angles and my help defense. So just really locking in on that mentally and just being where I’m supposed to be.”
Carolina held an opponent under 50 points for the sixth time in eight games.
Alyssa Ustby added 18 points for UNC and Hodgson scored nine points to reach exactly 1,000 career points.
“It’s amazing to be able to achieve that, especially with this group of people, and even against JMU, I think makes it even more special because that’s the team that I played for the past two, three years,” said Hodgson, who transferred from William and Mary, a CAA rival of the Dukes. “And, so, I give a big credit to my teammates and just finding me.”
The UNC offense was as crisp as it has been all season with good ball movement and the ball not getting stuck with one player.
“As I tell my guys, passing requires three things: It requires a skill, it requires vision, and it requires a willingness,” Banghart said, “With the way that we defend, we prove that we’re willing to do anything to help our team win. It’s the vision and the skill that we’re still developing. And these are all kids that are used to having the ball in their hands all the time. And so they maybe played with high school teammates they couldn’t lean on. So it’s a growth process.”
Carolina’s postgame locker room was festive and the joy of the Tar Heels players throughout another easy win was obvious.
“This is how they are in practice, too,” Banghart said, adding that the players have a love for the game and each other. “They love game day because it’s the one time a week or twice a week where it’s us versus them. Otherwise, they’re battling in practice all the time. So there’s always a happiness to this group. But on game day, I think it’s the excitement that they’re finally all on the same team.”
Carlie Littlefield’s 3-pointer in the first three seconds got the Tar Heels off to a quick start, and Ustby’s layup with 3:48 left in the first quarter made it 19–4.
UNC led 28–11 after one quarter as the Dukes became only the second team this season to score double-digit first-quarter points against the Tar Heels. UNC led 51–22 at halftime and 10 of 11 Tar Heels already had scored. JMU became the fifth team this season to score at least 20 first-half points on UNC.
After outscoring JMU 23–8 in the third quarter and pushing the margin to 51 in the fourth quarter, JMU trimmed the lead a little in the final minutes.
Keeping up the intensity with big leads can be a challenge but Carolina is meeting it, Banghart said, by respecting the game and each player respecting their contribution.
“If you’re given time, that’s time that’s taking from somebody else,” Banghart said. “And so it’s just a level of respect that this team has for the program that whether you’re in or out, you’re contributing. And so that’s just a baseline bottom-level expectation. And we know that the younger guys are the guys that have less experience. We have to be a little bit more patient with them. I give their teammates a lot of credit. They’re patient with the ones they have to be patient with and they kind of challenge the ones they need to be challenged.”
Jamia Hazell led JMU with 20 points.
As final exams continue this week, Carolina gets a week off before facing UNC Asheville at 2 p.m. Sunday at Carmichael.
The Bulldogs (4–3) play at East Tennessee State on Friday night. UNCA has wins over Western Carolina (74–72, OT), Mars Hill (71–38), Wofford (70–64) and Warren Wilson (100–36) and losses to UNC Greensboro (52–48), Furman (64–49) and Appalachian State (71–56). The Tar Heels beat that Mountaineers team 89–44 on Nov. 17.
UNC 93, James Madison 47
UNC season statistics
|Date||Score, record/day, time, TV||Location||Opponent|
|9||92–47 win, 1–0||Home||N.C. A&T|
|14||89–33 win, 2–0||Road||Charlotte|
|17||89–44 win, 3–0||Home||Appalachian State|
|21||79–46 win, 4–0||Road||TCU|
|26||72–59 win, 5–0||Bimini, Bahamas||X — VCU|
|27||58–37 win, 6–0||Bimini, Bahamas||X — Washington|
|1||82–76 win, 7–0||Road||Y — Minnesota|
|5||93–47 win, 8–0||Home||James Madison|
|12||Sunday, 2, ACCNX||Home||UNC Asheville|
|15||Wednesday, 6, ACCNX||Home||Jacksonville|
|19||Sunday, 2, ACCNX||Road||Boston College|
|21||Tuesday, 1, ACCNX||Home||Alabama State|
|30||Thursday, 4, ACCNX||Home||Syracuse|
|2||Sunday, 6, ACCN||Home||Clemson|
|6||Thursday, 8, ACCN||Road||No. 5 N.C. State|
|9||Sunday, 6, ACCN||Home||No. 24 Virginia Tech|
|16||Sunday, 1, RSN||Road||Notre Dame|
|20||Thursday, 6, ACCNX||Home||Virginia|
|23||Sunday, noon, ACCN||Road||Georgia Tech|
|27||Thursday, 7, ACCNX||Road||Duke|
|30||Sunday, TBA, ESPN or ACCN||Home||No. 5 N.C. State|
|3||Thursday, 8, RSN||Road||Wake Forest|
|6||Sunday, noon, ACCN||Home||Miami|
|10||Thursday, 6, ACCNX||Home||Pittsburgh|
|13||Sunday, 1, ACCNX||Road||Virginia Tech|
|17||Thursday, 6, RSN||Home||No. 10 Louisville|
|20||Sunday, noon, RSN||Road||No. 17 Florida State|
|24||Thursday, 7, ACCNX||Road||Virginia|
|27||Sunday, TBA, ESPN2 or ACCN||Home||Duke|
X —Goombay Splash; Y — Big Ten/ACC Challenge
Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications