By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — On a wild night in ACC women’s basketball, No. 13 Carolina’s physical battle with Florida State in the Tar Heels’ ACC opener fit right in.
The Seminoles came with flying elbows, shoves — and even an unsportsman-like conduct technical foul — seemingly with the intent of mixing it up. The Tar Heels couldn’t match that physicality, particularly under the boards, but they might have overcome that if not for one of their worst perimeter shooting games of the season.
Carolina (9–3, 0–1 ACC) became the third ranked ACC team to lose Thursday to an unranked league opponent as Florida State took control with a 13–1 third-quarter run and held on for a 78–71 victory at Carmichael Arena.
No. 5 Notre Dame survived a challenge at Miami before winning 66–63, No. 6 N.C. State lost to Duke 72–58 at home and No. 7 Virginia Tech — Carolina’s next opponent — lost at Clemson 64–59.
A possible positive for UNC was that it battled until the end even though it got dominated under the boards and shot 4 of 23 from 3-point range. The frustrations mounted when the Tar Heels missed potential game-tying 3-point attempts on successive possessions early in the final quarter, then never got closer than one point.
“Clearly, with those things, all things aside, these guys still had a chance to win it late,” UNC coach Courtney Banghart said. “So, good progress. We know it’s a long season and it’s important to keep getting better, and I thought we got better from a week ago.”
It’s been apparent all season that — as a team — UNC team hasn’t been as physical as last season. But no team exploited that like Florida State (13–2, 2–0) did repeatedly, as the Seminoles rebounded 44.4% of their missed shots.
“We aren’t physical enough,” said Banghart, whose team has lost two consecutive games after not doing that once last season. “There’s no doubt about it. We’re not big enough. We’re not physical enough. We don’t guard the ball well enough. So they go by us, which means we’re now in rotation. We have to be better at guarding athletic guards on the perimeter and we have to be more physical in the low post.”
Before Thursday, UNC hadn’t given up more than 11 second-chance points in a game, but FSU had 20 by halftime and finished with 37. All season before Thursday, UNC had given up 75 second-chance points.
“I don’t think we did a good job containing and then we couldn’t rotate rebound very well,” Banghart said, noting that her team played better offensively and defensively than in last week’s loss to Michigan.
UNC’s Alyssa Ustby, who finished with 16 points, 13 rebounds, two assists, two steals and three blocks, is as tough as anybody on the court but she got penalized for it.
On a night the referees made their share of creative — and sometimes downright wrong — calls, they whistled Ustby for an intentional foul when she dove on the floor trying to battle a defender for the ball.
“That play, specifically, I was trying to make a toughness play, get on the ball, hopefully, come up with it, and our team gets another possession,” Ustby said of the play. “So that’s a win in my book. And although it didn’t turn out the way I wanted to, I’m just gonna keep being tough.”
Deja Kelly led Carolina in scoring, with seven of her 20 points from the free throw line, in addition to dishing out three assists and dealing with Seminoles guard Sara Bejedi all night.
In one sequence when FSU was about to inbound the ball, Bejedi kept shoving Kelly and one referee stopped and spoke to Bejedi. After Bejedi kept doing it, a second official had a few words with her before the ball was thrown in. No foul was called.
“That’s her,” Kelly said of Bejedi. “She’s a dirty player, in some sense. That’s her job, is defense and just to try to get under people’s skin. I knew that that was going to be her assignment tonight. I didn’t back down.”
Banghart said these are the sort of battles to expect in the ACC.
“These kids are really familiar with one another. And so, in the heat of the moment, competitors are going to try to act in a certain way to try to fire their team,” Banghart said.
Kennedy Todd-Williams contributed 16 points and three assists while Eva Hodgson had 12 points and seven assists.
Kelly’s defense helped hold Florida State star Ta’Niya Latson to five points in the first half, as she didn’t score a field goal until a follow shot with 1:47 left in the second quarter.
The guard, who leads the ACC in scoring and has been the ACC freshman of the week every week, heated up in the second half and finished with 21 points.
“I thought we guarded her pretty well on the perimeter,” Kelly said of the defense on Latson in the first half. “We made sure that she saw bodies in the paint. I think she did; I thought she saw two or three bodies at a time when she was taking her shots. I think the second half, I don’t think we guarded as well.”
Latson is only 5–8 but also pulled down eight rebounds, in addition to six assists and two steals.
An O’Mariah Gordon 3-pointer with 5:07 left in the first quarter gave FSU an eight-point lead, but a UNC run after that tied it at 22 by the end of the first quarter on a pair of Kelly free throws.
The Tar Heels turned up the defense and jumped out to a nine-point lead from there when Ustby scored eight consecutive points in a 12–1 run to open the second quarter. Carolina led 41–35 at halftime after holding the Seminoles to 3 of 16 second-quarter shooting.
Five Latson points, including a 3-pointer, quickly cut the lead to one in the first 41 seconds of the second half. Then, the Seminoles used a 13–1 run to take their first lead since the first quarter, going up 55–48 on a Latson jumper with 1:18 left in the third quarter. FSU took a 55–51 lead into the final quarter after UNC was 4 of 18 from the floor in the third.
After UNC missed three consecutive 3-point attempts with a chance to tie, Gordon’s 3-pointer pushed the lead back to six with 6:04 left. Eva Hodgson’s 3-pointer cut it to two with 5:21 left. Two Timpson layups sandwiched a curious offensive foul on Kelly to give FSU a 69–64 lead with two minutes left.
Kelly’s driving layup with 45 seconds left cut FSU’s lead to 72–68. After a free throw by FSU’s Erin Howard with 43 seconds left, a Todd-Williams follow shot eight seconds later cut the lead to three.
Florida State put the game away with five free throws in the final 34 seconds, four from Latson.
Makayla Timpson had 20 points and 11 rebounds for Florida State.
NOTES — Carolina visits No. 7 Virginia Tech at 4 p.m. Sunday (ACC Network). The Hokies (11–2, 1–2 ACC) will also be coming off a loss after their setback at Clemson. Earlier, they lost Dec. 18 at home against No. 5 Notre Dame 63–52. Senior center Elizabeth Kitley leads the team with 19.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. … That was Carolina’s second-worst perimeter shooting game of the season, with the worst being a 3 of 18 game (16.7%) against TCU. … Just like for UNC’s game against Michigan in Charlotte, there was no pep band, meaning the team ran out onto the court to a recorded version of “Here Comes Carolina.” … Before Thursday, Oregon’s 11 second-chance points were the highest by an opponent this season. … UNC fell to 34–17 in the series with FSU, including losses in seven of the last eight games. … It’s the first time Carolina has lost consecutive games since losing to Wake Forest and Alabama in the last two games of the 2020–21 season.
FSU 78, No. 13 UNC 71
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|
Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications