By R.L. Bynum
RALEIGH — Winning at N.C. State without Alyssa Ustby? Most probably thought that was too much to ask, but that group didn’t include the rest of the No. 19 Tar Heels, who nearly pulled it off.
Carolina couldn’t finish off the Wolfpack, though, blowing a 10-point lead in the last 4:15 of regulation before N.C. State dominated overtime in a 77–66 victory Thursday. It was an ugly, frustrating collapse for the short-handed Tar Heels (18–8, 9–6 ACC) at a loud and raucous Reynolds Coliseum.
“Give them a lot of credit,” N.C. State coach Wes Moore said of UNC. “They came in here and, really, for 35 minutes, they kicked our butts. Proud of our players for making it a 45-minute game.”
N.C. State (18–8, 8–7 ACC) turned up the full-court pressure and that flipped the game around, forcing turnovers and leading the Wolfpack to outscore UNC 32–7 in fast-break points.
The Wolfpack outscored the Heels 15–4 in overtime, and while State made 10 of its last 15 shots, Carolina hit only one of its last nine.
“Great experience for our guys,” said Carolina coach Courtney Banghart, whose team shot 38.5% from the floor and 16% from 3-point range. “I thought their pressure bothered us a little bit and, obviously, we didn’t shoot very well. I think we feel like that was a game we could have won.”
Deja Kelly (18 points, eight rebounds), Paulina Paris (14 points), Kennedy Todd-Williams (11 points, eight rebounds) and Kayla McPherson (nine points, five rebounds, three assists) all played well until they couldn’t make enough plays down the stretch.
“The growth and maturation of our young guys and these guys having to be the steady force gave us a chance on the road,” Banghart said, sitting next to Kelly and Todd-Williams.
UNC took control in the third quarter and appeared to be on its way to the first sweep of their rivals since 2015, but it wasn’t to be. Todd-Williams said that the Tar Heels let their guard down when they went ahead by 10 late.
“I think we got a little too comfortable, and then they brought out the press, and then we shut down a little bit,” Todd-Williams said of the game-changing final nine minutes. “But, that comes with just maturity and us sticking together.”
Kelly made a game-saving play at the end of regulation that forced State’s Aziaha James to miss a layup attempt after she had stolen the ball from McPherson.
Carolina could only manage a Paris layup and a pair of Kelly free throws in overtime, though, while James scored seven of her 18 points after regulation.
“I don’t think it was them, it was mostly us,” Kelly (below) said of why UNC handled the press so poorly. “I think that we just didn’t attack it. Me, personally, I didn’t attack it. And I thought we just didn’t open up to open spots for the outlet passes in the press.”
The Pack had lost three of its last four games but came to life late as Jakia Brown-Turner made huge shots down the stretch to score 18 points.
“You’re up 10 late, the basket looks big for them; there’s nothing to lose,” Banghart said. “We weren’t as sure-handed with the ball as we typically are, which was really hurting us. A combination of empty possessions and then them making big 3s late was a bad combination for us.”
Ustby missed her fourth consecutive game with a lower-body injury and will continue to be evaluated on a game-by-game basis.
Junior center Anya Poole returned to the lineup after missing Sunday’s Boston College game with a shoulder injury, though Banghart said she wasn’t totally cleared. Fifth-year guard Eva Hodgson, expected back by March, missed her seventh consecutive game.
Junior forward Alexandra Zelaya started for the second consecutive game after never previously starting in her career, scoring five points in 31 minutes.
Moore recognized the difference Ustby’s absence made for UNC, saying that she “killed them” in the first game (nine points, 18 rebounds). But he said not to “feel too sorry” for UNC, considering he had to deal with McPherson. He called her one of the top-10 recruits coming out of high school and said he recruited her hard.
McPherson gave UNC a lot of intangibles with her quickness, hustle and tenacity, but she committed that big late turnover with the score tied at the end of regulation.
“Her readiness and her fight shows the bright spot of what’s to come,” Banghart said of McPherson. “The kid is really special.”
There was a lot of concern when McPherson went down the court grimacing late in the game but it turned out to only be a leg cramp.
Carolina made three of its first four shots to score the game’s first six points before a 9–4 N.C. State run sliced the lead to one. The Wolfpack led by three before a Kelly layup cut UNC’s deficit to 15–14 after one quarter.
After UNC missed its first eight 3-point attempts, 3-pointers from Paris and Adams gave the Heels two brief one-point leads. McPherson gave UNC a 30–29 halftime lead on two free throws, followed by her steal and layup in the last 39 seconds.
A 9–1 Carolina run in the first five minutes of the second half gave the Heels a nine-point lead on a Zelaya’s corner 3. The Pack cut it to four but a Todd-Williams 3-pointer gave Carolina a 44–37 lead after three quarters.
The Tar Heels shoved the lead to 10 with 6:39 left on layups by Paris and Kelly. A Paris three-point play on a crafty move to the bucket put UNC up 10 with 4:15 left.
That’s when the game started to shift.
A Mimi Collins 3-pointer with 2:07 left sliced UNC’s lead to five, and two James free throws cut it to three before a Paris drive with 1:47 left. After a Brown-Turner 3 cut it to two, Poole scored an inside bucket. After another Brown-Turner 3 sliced it to one with 31 seconds left, McPherson split a pair of free throws with 17.4 seconds left to give UNC a 62–60 lead.
James’ layup tied it with 13 seconds left in regulation. After James missed the layup attempt with 1.2 of a second left, the game went to overtime after both teams couldn’t get off last-second shots.
James netted four points as the Pack scored the first seven points in overtime to take control and the Heels never came closer than five the rest of the way.
NOTES — Carolina returns home at 4 p.m. Sunday to face Wake Forest (ACC Network). The Deacons (14–12, 5–10) lost 63–55 at Georgia Tech on Thursday night. … Carolina started its seventh lineup variation this season after the same five started all 32 games last season. … N.C. State earned a season split with UNC to push its series lead to 63–54. The Wolfpack has won four of the last five meetings and hasn’t lost to Carolina at home since the Tar Heels’ 64–51 Super Bowl Sunday win on Feb. 3, 2019, over No. 7 State in Coach Sylvia Hatchell’s last season as head coach. … UNC is 3–5 against State under Banghart. … RJ Davis and Armando Bacot were at the game.
N.C. State 77, No. 19 UNC 66, OT
UNC lineup combinations
|No. 10 Notre Dame||15–3||24–4|
|No. 11 Duke||14–4||24–5|
|No. 9 Virginia Tech||14–4||24–4|
|No. 23 Florida State||12–6||23–8|
|No. 22 North Carolina||11–7||20–9|
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
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
|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