Kelly’s career game isn’t enough for short-handed Heels at Syracuse

By R.L. Bynum

Life on the road in the ACC is challenging enough to begin with, but the difficulty factor goes up without two starters. It can be downright tough when a third starter goes down in the third quarter. It’s even tougher when a fourth starter goes down late.

Throw in Syracuse banking in 3-pointers and going 12 of 13 from the free-throw line, and it was a long night for No. 14 North Carolina in Syracuse’s cavernous dome, where the Tar Heels have lost five in a row.

The Tar Heels, playing their second consecutive game without Alyssa Ustby (lower-body injury) and the fifth game in a row without Eva Hodgson (upper-body injury), gave up 31 third-quarter points as Syracuse pulled away for a 75–67 victory on Thursday for UNC’s second consecutive loss.

Deja Kelly tried to carry the Tar Heels (17–7, 8–5) to victory with a career-high 32 points (tying her season-high of four 3-pointers and pulling down four rebounds), but it was all too much to overcome against the Orange (16–9, 7–7).

UNC coach Courtney Banghart said that her young players needed more urgency to compensate for missing a couple of stars. They seemed to be overwhelmed in the third quarter and didn’t provide the sort of play the Heels needed to overcome all of the adversity.

“I think our young guys are learning how hard it is to win,” Banghart said. “Pretty much, it comes down to that. It’s really hard to win in the ACC. The urgency with the young guys isn’t what needs to be. … The urgency that that requires — it’s not showing itself consistently enough.”

During a longer-than-normal postgame discussion in the locker room, in addition to Banghart talking to the team, Kelly — Carolina’s leading scorer — was the only player who shared some words with the team. That came two days after Armando Bacot, the leading scorer on the men’s team, addressed his teammates after Tuesday’s loss at Wake Forest.

“It was mostly we have to have to play harder,” Kelly said. “One thing that I know that [Banghart] will not coach is effort, so that’s on us that we have to bring from everybody, especially the younger guys.”

With 2:48 left, Kennedy Todd-Williams — who had 14 points, two 3-pointers and four rebounds — went down hard and left the game but said she is fine.

“There wasn’t much I feel like me and Toddy could do,” Kelly said. “We could have tried to play a little harder. But we need other people to step up, now more than ever. That was basically the message.”

Kelly and Todd-Williams were 19 of 37 (51.4%) from the floor and the rest of the team was 8 of 26 (30.6%), with Paulina Paris and Destiny Adams combining to go 1 of 11 from the floor.

“I have their backs,” Todd-Williams said of the underclassmen. “We’re all a team. We understand, but it’s a time and a place and they had this time to come into the game and do what they do. So, just understanding watching film, we’re going to take this as a lesson and nothing to pout about. We just have to keep going forward because we are all we have.”

Teonni Key led the rest of the team with an ACC-high eight points and Kayla McPherson added 7.

Starting Carolina center Anya Poole took a hard fall to the court in the third quarter, held her shoulder after coming off the court and didn’t return. That meant reserve Malu Tshitenge played 11 minutes after logging only 12 in ACC play before Thursday. Banghart didn’t know anything about Poole’s status at the time of her postgame press conference.

“There’s a great opportunity for some of our young guys to step up,” Banghart said, adding that she’s asking Kelly and Todd-Williams to take on more and doesn’t expect the others to match those numbers. “We’re asking for the younger guys to come in and compete at a very high level and to take care of the things that we talked about every day.”

Banghart said the young players need to play better one-on-one defense, and crash the boards better.

“It comes down to urgency,” Banghart said. “It’s hard to teach urgency. At some point, it’s all that matters is winning. Until you get there with young guys, you’re kind of trying to feel your way and find your way through things. And you just kind of got to go. It’s frustrating when we see it and they’re taking their time getting that figured out.”

Ustby’s absence already made rebounding difficult and, without Poole for much of the second half, UNC was outrebounded 43–20. Syracuse pulled down 16 offensive rebounds to produce 18 second-chance points.

“Her pursuit to the rebounds — she’s a beast out there,” Todd-Williams said of Ustby. “Having those guys to step up,  like Des [Adams] and Teonni? I think that’ll really help us and helping them mature in that way in these games.”

Banghart said the hearts of her players were heavy after the game knowing that they couldn’t do nearly enough to compensate for the 27.5 points per game they were missing without Ustby and Hodgson. They had to be effective on defense and — particularly in the third quarter —  that didn’t happen.

“We’re gonna have to keep the game to a lower number, which means defense and rebounding are really critical,” Banghart said. “Defense and rebounding is not something that requires skill, it requires urgency.”

The teams traded 8–0 runs, with UNC getting four each from Kelly and Poole in its run, to put Syracuse up 11–10 with 2:42 left in the first quarter. Teisha Hyman’s 3-pointer gave the Orange a 16–14 lead after UNC had more turnovers (7) than field goals (6).

A trio of 3-pointers, two from Kelly and one from Todd-Williams on an 8–0 run, gave UNC a 25–22 lead with 5:22 left in the first half after falling behind by five. Another Kelly 3-pointer pushed UNC’s lead to six but it was only 34–32 at halftime after four Syracuse free throws.

Carolina had three turnovers and one field goal in the first nearly four minutes of the second half. Syracuse took advantage with a 10–0 run to take a 44–37 lead, prompting a Banghart timeout. After a pair of Key free throws, the Orange reeled off six consecutive points to go up 11.


After Kelly scored 19 points in the first half, she only had two in the third quarter before scoring 11 in the final period.

“We didn’t really have an opportunity, especially in the third quarter, to really get into anything,” Kelly said. “We were soft with the ball; we were careless. That’s when they went on their run. They scored a lot off of our turnovers so there wasn’t really any opportunity.”

McPherson tried to give UNC some life with a steal and twisting layup with 2:26 left, but a Dyaisha Fair 3-pointer and free throw gave Syracuse a 63–48 lead after three quarters.

After Syracuse went up by 16 early in the final quarter, the closest UNC could get was eight points on a Kelly jumper with 17 seconds left.

Fair led Syracuse with 23 points and four 3-pointers, with Georgia Woolley adding 20 and Dariauna Lewis collecting 14 points and 15 rebounds.

NOTES — Carolina returns home at noon Sunday to face Boston College (ACC Network) in the Tar Heels’ second consecutive Play4Kay game after Syracuse wore pink uniforms and UNC had pink trim on its white uniforms. The Eagles (14–13, 4–10) lost at home to No. 9 Duke on Thursday 68–27 for their third consecutive loss. … Kelly’s previous best career scoring game was 31 points on Jan. 2, 2022, against Clemson. … Kelly and Ustby made the 30-player midseason list of candidates for the Naismith Trophy for the women’s player of the year. Carolina is one of five schools with two players on the list. … The status of Ustby, who was with the team, will be re-evaluated on a game-by-game basis. UNC hopes to get Hodgson back by the start of March. … The 31 third-quarter points for Syracuse were the most UNC has given up since allowing Michigan to score 35 in the first quarter. … Syracuse has won two of the last three meetings and seven of the last nine, leading the series with UNC 9–6. … Carolina last won at Syracuse 81–68 in 2001.

Syracuse 75, No. 14 UNC 67

UNC lineup combinations


ACC standings

No. 10 Notre Dame15–324–4
No. 11 Duke14–424–5
No. 9 Virginia Tech14–424–4
No. 23 Florida State12–623–8
No. 22 North Carolina11–720–9
N.C. State9–919–10
Boston College5–1315–16
Wake Forest5–1314–15
Georgia Tech4–1413–16

Thursday’s results
No. 9 Virginia Tech 61, No. 22 North Carolina 59
No. 10 Notre Dame 76, Georgia Tech 53
No. 23 Florida State 61, Wake Forest 60
Syracuse 85, Pittsburgh 55
Louisville 71, Miami 50
Clemson 79, Virginia 69
No. 11 Duke 77, N.C. State 62
Sunday’s results
No. 22 North Carolina 45, No. 11 Duke 41
No. 10 Notre Dame 68, Louisville, noon, ESPN3
Miami 84, Virginia 75
Boston College 73, Wake Forest 63
Clemson 74, No. 23 Florida State 61
N.C. State 68, Pittsburgh at 63
No. 9 Virginia Tech 65, Georgia Tech 52
End of regular season

(current ranking)
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. 17 Iowa State Portland6–0
DecemberACC/Big Ten Challenge
1ThursdayL, 87–63No. 2 IndianaBloomington, Ind.6–1
7WednesdayW, 64–42UNCWHome7–1
11SundayW, 99–67WoffordHome8–1
16FridayW, 89–47USC UpstateHome9–1
Jumpman Invitational
20TuesdayL, 76–68No. 18 MichiganCharlotte9–2
ACC season begins
29ThursdayL, 78–71Florida StateHome9–3, 0–1 ACC
1SundayL, 68–65No. 4
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
1–3 ACC
12ThursdayW, 70–59VirginiaCharlottesville, Va.11–5,
2–3 ACC
15SundayW, 56–47N.C. StateHome12–5,
3–3 ACC
19ThursdayW, 61–56No. 13 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
2ThursdayW, 73–62VirginiaHome17–5,
8–3 ACC
5SundayL, 62–55LouisvilleLouisville17–6,
8–4 ACC
9ThursdayL, 75–67SyracuseSyracuse17–7,
8–5 ACC
12SundayW, 73–55Boston CollegeHome18–7,
9–5 ACC
16ThursdayL, 77–66, OTN.C. StateRaleigh18–8,
9–6 ACC
19SundayW, 71–58Wake ForestHome19–8,
10–6 ACC
23ThursdayL, 61–59No. 4
Virginia Tech
10–7 ACC
26SundayW, 45–41No. 13 DukeDurham20–9,
10–8 ACC
MarchACC Tournament
2ThursdayW, 68–58Clemson Greensboro21–9
3FridayL, 44–40No. 13 Duke Greensboro21–10
NCAA tournament
18SaturdayW, 61–59 St. John’sColumbus, Ohio22–10
20MondayL, 71–69No. 12 Ohio State Columbus, Ohio22–11

Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications


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