UNC rallies from 15 down in 4th at BC, 10–0 after Kelly’s clutch plays at end

By R.L. Bynum

North Carolina’s undefeated women’s team hadn’t faced much adversity until Sunday’s ACC opener at Boston College, but the No. 25 Tar Heels handled it with poise in the end.

UNC battled foul trouble to rally from a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit, its largest deficit of the season, to beat Boston College 76–73 and remain the league’s only unbeaten team. 

The Tar Heels (10–0, 1–0 ACC), who were never behind by more than five points before Sunday, trailed at halftime for the first time this season. They struggled from the perimeter most of the afternoon and earned few style points. But they did what they needed to win, even without Alyssa Ustby for the final 5:49.

“We got outrebounded, which doesn’t happen very often for a team I coach,” said UNC coach Courtney  Banghart, who had lots of relatives in the stands. “We also shot the ball very poorly throughout the game. So, a lot of things that are hard to overcome. But our guys just believed and they put their work where their mouth is. It’s not a team that tries and hopes to win. It’s a team that finds a way. So we’re really happy to leave here 1–0 [in the ACC], that’s for sure.”

Graduate guard Carlie Littlefield and sophomore guard Deja Kelly both scored 13 second-half points, with Littlefield scoring a game-high 22 points and Kelly netting 19.

Kelly wasn’t going to let the Tar Heels lose as they faced a one-point deficit in the final seconds.

Kelly’s short step-back jumper with 9.3 seconds left gave the Tar Heels their first lead since early in the second quarter. After Kelly stole the ensuing inbounds pass and made two free throws with eight seconds remaining, BC’s Cameron Swartz missed a potential game-tying tying 3-pointer at the buzzer.

“It was kind of just the flow,” Kelly, who played all 40 minutes, said of the play that led to her big jumper. “They were playing really aggressive on the initial inbound to Carlie, so I just flashed and I just saw an open lane, so I took it. I had already hit a couple of pull-ups in that spot throughout the game, so I was really confident in it.”

Deja Kelly came up big with a jumper, a steal and two free throws in the final seconds of Sunday’s win.

Kelly came through in a similar situation in a high school playoff game, so making clutch shots at the end wasn’t new for her.

“I’m really confident in my free throws,” said Kelly, who had to wait through a clock review that might have iced some free-throw shooters. “So, that wasn’t really a worry of mine. But definitely having the ball in my hands with a late clock, I’m kind of comfortable with. I like to finish off games.”

Kelly is a sophomore who played with the poise of an upperclassman Sunday.

“It’s so much fun to play with DK,” Littlefield said of Kelly. “We kind of play a lot off each other, just the one-two punch. But it’s so fun playing with her and practicing every day. We were going to get that one last shot and I looked at her, and I said, ‘this is a bucket.’ And then she got fouled and I was like ‘these are buckets.’ So, I just have so much trust in her and I just love playing with her.”

A Kennedy Todd-Williams fast-break layup ignited a 13–2 UNC fourth-quarter run that included a big 3-pointer from Eva Hodgson, who finished with 15 points. Freshman Destiny Adams’ inside bucket off of an Eagles turnover with 4:05 left sliced BC’s lead to 66–64.

The Eagles (7–3) responded with a 7–0 run, punctuated by a Cameron Swartz 3-pointer. Littlefield’s three-point play, steal and driving shot cut BC’s lead to 73–72 with 42 seconds left.

The teams traded charging calls, with Kelly getting one with 36 seconds left and BC’s Marnelle Garraud, who scored 20 points, being called for one with 12 seconds left for her fifth foul. Kelly then hit her big jumper.

Kelly’s shot was a big hit back in Chapel Hill with Banghart’s kids.

“It wasn’t pretty, but we kind of found a way,” Littlefield said. “That first half is not how we wanted to play. The halftime message was ‘just come out and show our toughness.’ I think we did a great job of sticking together and just kind of staying the course.”

In the halftime dressing room after Carolina’s worst half of the season, facing a 41–33 deficit, Banghart had a rhetorical question for her team.

“She kind of walked in and was like, ‘Is that the best we can play?’ And we kind of agreed no,” Littlefield said. “She’s like, ‘Was that playing to our principles?’ No. ‘So, I need you to come out here and prove how tough you are.’ So, I think we did a great job of answering the call. The third quarter was a little shaky, but in the fourth quarter, we really showed what we’re about.”

Littlefield, who calls herself the grandma of this young Tar Heels team, said it was hard to put into words what the win meant in her first league game in two seasons after Princeton opted out of last season. She said it’s been a long road for her.

“Every day coming to practice, working with this young team is so much fun,” Littlefield said. “Not only does it mean a lot for me — just because I love playing at this level — but it means a lot just for this team because we put so much work in behind the scenes. This team is so awesome. So, just to see it come to fruition, even though it was ugly, we pulled it out, so it means a lot.”

The Tar Heels already were facing a challenging rebounding afternoon when Ustby, their leading rebounder, fouled out with 5:49 left. Carolina was forced to improvise with a four-guard lineup and somehow still rallied to win.

As Banghart put it, she had to go to plan F in the fourth quarter.

“Everything that can go wrong went wrong,” Banghart said. “Alyssa is a tough kid. In this particular game, it’s tough to absorb that foul trouble.”

Ustby finished with a season-low seven points and five rebounds.

“Thankfully we hadn’t had to do that yet this year,” Littlefield said. “So, it’s definitely a little bit of a switch up for us. But, thankfully, the way we played defense, we knew that if we stayed in each other’s gaps, it’s not one-on-one for our defense. It’s five on five. We knew that, even without Lys, if we stuck together and stayed in gaps for each other, we could pull it out.”

In addition to foul trouble for Ustby, Todd-Williams and Hodgson finished with three fouls each.

UNC jumped out to an 11–3 lead on a Littlefield jumper with 3:06 left in the opening quarter. Boston College responded with a 13–3 run and the Tar Heels led 17–16 after one quarter on another Littlefield jumper late in the period.

The Eagles opened the second quarter with an 11–1 run while BC’s leading scorer Taylor Soule still was on the bench with two fouls. Garraud’s 3-pointer with 6:58 left in the first half gave BC a 28–17 lead.

Rather than cut into the lead in the third quarter, it got worse. Ustby picked up her third foul with 5:22 left and fourth foul with 3:41 in the third quarter, forcing UNC into a four-guard lineup, and the Eagles took a 60–47 edge into the final quarter. 

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They then went up by 15 early in the fourth quarter before Carolina charged back.

Boston College led by as many as 12 points in the second quarter. The Tar Heels trailed at halftime for the first time this season 40–29. Rebounding was a huge reason as BC rebounded 42% of its misses and led rebounding 21–13.

Soule, the second-leading scorer in the ACC, picked up her second foul four minutes into the game, sat for the rest of the first half and finished with six points. 

Kelly and Hodgson each had four steals and Ustby and Littlefield both had three.

UNC shot 39.3% from the floor and had its second-worst 3-point-shooting game of the season, making only 3 of 15 attempts.

The Tar Heels play their final non-conference game at 1 p.m. Tuesday at Carmichael Arena against Alabama State (2–6). The Hornets have lost to four Power 5 schools — Mississippi State (91–62), Auburn (74–45), Georgia (73–43) and Ohio State (97–51) — but beat Mobile 79–44 on Saturday.

No. 25 UNC 76, BC 73

UNC season statistics

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 (4–0, 1–0 ACC)
182–76 win, 7–0RoadY — Minnesota
593–47 win, 8–0HomeJames Madison
12107–46 win, 9–0HomeUNC Asheville
15Game canceledHomeJacksonville
1976–73 win, 10–0, 1–0 ACCRoadBoston College
21Tuesday, 1, ACCNXHomeAlabama State
30Thursday, 4, ACC NetworkHomeSyracuse
January
2Sunday, 6, ACCNHomeClemson
6Thursday, 8, ACCNRoadNo. 2 N.C. State
9Sunday, 6, ACCNHomeNo. 24 Virginia Tech
16Sunday, 1, RSNRoadNo. 21 Notre Dame
20Thursday, 6, ACCNXHomeVirginia
23Sunday, noon, ACCNRoadNo. 18 Georgia Tech
27Thursday, 7, ACCNXRoadNo. 15 Duke
30Sunday, TBA, ESPN or ACCNHomeNo. 2 N.C. State
February
3Thursday, 8, RSNRoadWake Forest
6Sunday, noon, ACCNHomeMiami
10Thursday, 6, ACCNXHomePittsburgh
13Sunday, 1, ACCNXRoadVirginia Tech
17Thursday, 6, RSNHomeNo. 6 Louisville
20Sunday, noon, RSNRoadFlorida State
24Thursday, 7, ACCNXRoadVirginia
27Sunday, TBA, ESPN2 or ACCNHomeNo. 15 Duke
March
2–
6
ACC TournamentGreensboro
ACCNX — ACC Network Extra (ESPN3); ACCN — ACC Network; RSN — regional sports networks;
X —Goombay Splash; Y — Big Ten/ACC Challenge

Photos courtesy of Boston College Athletics

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