By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — The wait for five-star forward Teonni Key’s college debut finally ended in a Wednesday matinee that gave Carolina fans a preview of spectacular upcoming attractions.
Key, a 6–4 redshirt freshman who missed last season while recovering from right knee surgery, was impressive, and sophomore Destiny Adams continued to show she’ll be a significant contributor off the bench with a career-high 23 points.
The No. 13 Tar Heels (3–0) rolled past overmatched South Carolina State 93–25 in an 11 a.m. game with hundreds of loud elementary school students on hand as six UNC players scored in double-figures.
“Excited to be up there with the team again,” Key said. “All the hard work has paid off.”
Key, whose sister Tamari is a senior at Tennessee, entered the game with 4:31 left in the first quarter and scored her first college points less than a minute later on a follow-up shot. Her quickness and length were immediately apparent as she collected 13 points, seven rebounds, three assists, two blocks and just rimmed out on a 3-point attempt.
It was the first action in three seasons after also missing her senior season in high school because of COVID-19 for Key, who didn’t know the length of her significant wingspan.
“There’s difficult days; there’s days that are better than others,” Key said of the last two seasons without games, adding that she feels fully healthy. “Just focusing on the goals. I feel like that made it a lot easier to get through.”
UNC coach Courtney Banghart said that Key had been practicing for a while, but she wanted to bring her along slowly because she hadn’t played the last two seasons.
“You guys saw today why we’ve been really excited,” Banghart said. “I think she’s got great length, and she can move her feet; she’s got good timing. So, she’s a good primary and secondary defender. And I think for her, just like Destiny, just figuring out how good she can be. I’ll worry about that. It’s about getting better every day.”
Key was in the post at times and outside on the wing at other times.
“We work on that every day in practice, just different sets, different stuff like that. So, I feel comfortable anywhere on the court,” Key said.
Junior guard Deja Kelly missed a game for the first time in her career because of lingering soreness from her left ankle injury. Against another opponent, she probably would have played. That meant that Adams made her well-earned first college start.
Adams swiped one of her career-high four steals and hit a layup in the game’s first two minutes and later scored her first two college 3-pointers.
“Destiny has continued to get better,” Banghart said. “She believes in herself. She took a slower adjustment to college than anyone would have liked. But we saw the work that she put in in the offseason, and this is the Destiny we expected.”
Adams, who admitted that she didn’t expect to score that many points, said that a change in her approach had a lot to do with the progression of her game since her freshman season.
“I just think that the most growth I needed was mentally,” said Adams, who pulled down a career-high eight rebounds. “I struggled with confidence a lot. So, working out every day here, the coaches just pushing me and reassuring me. And then, when I’m at home, I work out with my dad a lot. He helped me gain the confidence back that I knew I always had.”
Adams, whose previous best scoring game was 10 points Saturday against TCU, continues to show that she’s an all-around player who can contribute in many ways on both ends of the floor.
Adams said the most significant improvement in her game is shooting. She was 10 of 14 from the floor and 2 of 4 from 3-point range against South Carolina State.
“I had to work on my shot a lot. I wasn’t a big shooter last year,” said Adams, who hadn’t even attempted a college 3-pointer until Wednesday and said she’s more confident in her shot. “So, I had to really work on that. Last year, I was very hesitant. I didn’t know what I should be doing.”
Eva Hodgson, taking over playmaking duties from Kelly, had an excellent floor game with 10 points, a UNC-career-high eight assists, three steals and an eye-popping plus/minus of +63.
Alyssa Usbty put up another double-double with 14 points, 10 rebounds and three assists. Kennedy Todd-Williams had 13 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Center Anya Poole contributed 11 points and nine rebounds.
Freshman guard Paulina Paris had a good bit of time running the offense, and finished with five points, six assists and four steals.
Even though it was a one-sided game, Banghart said it was helpful.
“We didn’t get to scrimmage a bunch this offseason because we were so injured,” said Banghart after her team gave up only 25 points, the fewest in her tenure at UNC. “So, we wanted it to be a chance to have some live reps against other teams. Finding a team that can play at 11 a.m. is not easy, so I give South Carolina State a lot of credit and gratitude.”
It was the eighth consecutive loss for South Carolina State (0–4), which hasn’t won a game since Feb. 21 and has only one player taller than 6–0.
The Bulldogs went scoreless for 9½ minutes after scoring an early free throw and trailed 31–1 after the first quarter, setting a UNC school record for the fewest points allowed in a quarter. South Carolina State finally got some offense going in the second quarter but trailed 48–15 at halftime and was outscored 26–2 in the third quarter.
The Heels kept rolling in the second half, scoring 21 consecutive points to push the lead to 66 before leading by 68 in the final minute.
Guard Nicole Gwynn led the Bulldogs with 14 points.
NOTES — Carolina visits James Madison at 2 p.m. Sunday (ESPN+) in its first road game of the season. The Dukes are 3–1 with a 60–58 home loss to Maine, an 80–39 road win over Millersville, an 89–48 home win over Queens and an 82–55 road win Thursday over Longwood. James Madison went 14–15 last season and is picked to finish sixth in the Sun Belt Conference. … Kelly made the Preseason Top 50 Watch List for the Women’s Wooden Award. … The Tar Heels are 6–0 against South Carolina State, with each game played in Chapel Hill. The 68-point margin is the greatest since UNC beat the Bulldogs by 70 in 2020. … Carolina dominated the rebounding statistics 67–23 as the Bulldogs rebounded only four of their 42 missed shots. That’s the most rebounds for UNC since it had 68 against Coastal Carolina on Nov. 19, 2010. … Six Tar Heels had as many or more assists than the Bulldogs (3), who shot 15.2% from the floor. … UNC led in second-chance points 25–0, fast-break points 28–0 and bench points 22–2. … The 25 points were the fewest by an opponent since N.C. Central scored 21 on Dec. 12, 2012. … The school kids were at the game for the team’s field trip game, which drew 2,293 fans.
No. 13 UNC 93, S.C. State 25
UNC lineup combinations
|9||Wednesday||W, 91–59||Jackson State||Home||1–0|
|16||Wednesday||W, 93–25||South Carolina State||Home||3–0|
|20||Sunday||W, 76–65||James Madison||Harrisonburg, Va.||4–0|
|Phil Knight Invitational|
|27||Sunday||W, 73–64||No. 17 Iowa State||Portland||6–0|
|December||ACC/Big Ten Challenge|
|1||Thursday||L, 87–63||No. 2 Indiana||Bloomington, Ind.||6–1|
|16||Friday||W, 89–47||USC Upstate||Home||9–1|
|20||Tuesday||L, 76–68||No. 18 Michigan||Charlotte||9–2|
|ACC season begins|
|29||Thursday||L, 78–71||Florida State||Home||9–3, 0–1 ACC|
|1||Sunday||L, 68–65||No. 4 |
|Blacksburg, Va.||9–4, 0–2 ACC|
|5||Thursday||L, 62–58||Miami||Coral Gables, Fla.||9–5, 0–3 ACC|
|8||Sunday||W, 60–50||No. 10 |
|12||Thursday||W, 70–59||Virginia||Charlottesville, Va.||11–5, |
|15||Sunday||W, 56–47||N.C. State||Home||12–5, |
|19||Thursday||W, 61–56||No. 13 Duke||Home||13–5, |
|22||Sunday||W, 70–57||Georgia Tech||Home||14–5, |
|26||Thursday||W, 72–57||Pittsburgh||Pittsburgh||15–5, |
|29||Sunday||W, 69–58||Clemson||Clemson||16–5, |
|2||Thursday||W, 73–62||Virginia||Home||17–5, |
|5||Sunday||L, 62–55||Louisville||Louisville||17–6, |
|9||Thursday||L, 75–67||Syracuse||Syracuse||17–7, |
|12||Sunday||W, 73–55||Boston College||Home||18–7, |
|16||Thursday||L, 77–66, OT||N.C. State||Raleigh||18–8, |
|19||Sunday||W, 71–58||Wake Forest||Home||19–8, |
|23||Thursday||L, 61–59||No. 4 |
|26||Sunday||W, 45–41||No. 13 Duke||Durham||20–9, |
|3||Friday||L, 44–40||No. 13 Duke||Greensboro||21–10|
|18||Saturday||W, 61–59||St. John’s||Columbus, Ohio||22–10|
|20||Monday||L, 71–69||No. 12 Ohio State||Columbus, Ohio||22–11|
Photos courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications (top photo of Destiny Adams)