No. 22 UNC makes clutch plays down stretch, finishes another season sweep of No. 11 Duke in defensive battle

By R.L. Bynum

DURHAM — In a torrid defensive battle, No. 22 North Carolina broke through with the game on the line in the fourth quarter and won the game at the line.

The Tar Heels rode a 14–2 fourth-quarter run to their second consecutive regular-season sweep of Duke, making all nine free-throw attempts in the final period.

A sold-out Cameron Indoor Stadium crowd of 9,314, including plenty of loud Tar Heels fans, saw UNC’s gritty 45–41 win. It’s the first time Carolina (20–9, 11–7 ACC) has beaten Duke in four straight meetings in 14 seasons.

Most of the Tar Heels were in elementary school the last time that happened, just like Coach Courtney Banghart’s daughter Grey is now. She sat on her mom’s lap during the postgame press conference wearing a Deja Kelly jersey.

Banghart praised the leadership of Kelly and fellow junior Kennedy Todd-Williams (five rebounds and one steal) who — along with fellow junior Alyssa Ustby (seven rebounds and three steals) — each scored team-highs of nine points.

“Finally, led by these two, we just put our heads down and said, ‘enough is enough,’ and made enough plays,” UNC coach Courtney Banghart said of Kelly and Todd-Williams, who each scored five fourth-quarter points. “Big three by Toddy, huge free throws by both of them. Obviously. game management by Deja. Just a heavyweight fight, top-15, went on the road to end the regular season.”

In the process, Carolina denied Duke (24–5, 14–4) the chance to share the regular-season title with the lowest point total in a win in program history. Should No. 7-seed UNC make it to the Friday’s quarterfinals of the ACC tournament this week in Greensboro, it would face No. 2-seed Duke. Carolina plays at 6 p.m. Thursday against the winner of Wednesday’s Pittsburgh-Clemson first-round game.

UNC has beaten six ranked teams this season, the most of any ACC team and tied with UConn for the fourth-most in the country.

The Tar Heels are battle-tested in close games, dropping an overtime game at N.C. State and a two-point game Thursday at Virginia Tech. That experience paid dividends Sunday.

“We’ve been in a lot of tight ones this season, but I think just us being resilient has us really coming together,” Kelly said. “I think our energy was amazing in this game. We just could feel the connectedness throughout the game.

“Even when we were down. We were still like, ‘y’all, we’re good.’ ” Kelly said. “The biggest thing is we’ve got to stay together, and I think that’s what it came down to down the stretch. And then we just made some really big plays on both ends.”

Duke scored the first seven fourth-quarter points to go up by seven but UNC battled back with that 14–2 run.

“We just all came together. We knew it was going to come down to hitting a big shot and that’s exactly what we did,” Todd-Williams said. “So just executing on that end and finding each other.”

Banghart inserted Destiny Adams into the lineup to take advantage of her length, and moved Todd-Williams to the four spot and started trapping on ball screens.

“It was so annoying,” Banghart said of Duke’s 7-0 run. “We were so disruptive and forced a lot of turnovers or rushed shots. So I thought the aggressive defensive call made was a good change for our group.”

Todd-Williams tied it with a 3-pointer from the right corner on a nice drive and kick-out pass from redshirt freshman Kayla McPherson and gave the Heels a two-point lead on two free throws with 1:57 left. Kelly’s driving three-point play off of a high screen from Adams with 1:16 left pushed UNC’s lead to 43–38.

Duke cut it to two on a Shayeann Day-Wilson jumper with 1:10 left and a Kennedy Brown free throw with 37 seconds left. But Kelly, playing with four fouls, put the game away on two free throws with 13 seconds left after drawing a Day-Wilson foul with the shot clock down to five seconds.

“She was playing really close on me when the clock was running down,” Kelly (above photo) said. “So, I knew that she was going to reach at some point, and I used that to my advantage. So, I attacked her hips, and she fouled me.

“Just going in the free throw line, I was able to take a deep breath and I knew that I’m great in moments like that,” Kelly said. “I live for moments like these. So to be able to knock those two down felt really good and basically solidified it.”

While 15 of Duke’s 25 turnovers were from Carolina steals, many of the Tar Heels’ 21 turnovers resulted from unforced mistakes or poor decisions. UNC won the rebounding battle 45–41, limiting Duke to six offensive rebounds in the final three quarters.

Banghart said that her team needs to take better care of the basketball and that UNC has to generate turnovers if they are going to shoot 34.1% from the floor and 27.3% from 3-point range.

“I thought we did a really good job of that. And then we were a little bit careless; played a little bit fast,” said Banghart, who played true freshman Paulina Paris (12 minutes, 31 seconds) and McPherson (24:38), in her ninth college game, a lot of minutes.

The young guard duo made youthful mistakes, including some bad decisions while Carolina went on 5½-minute scoring drought in the second quarter.

“It’s just such a valuable experience,” Banghart said of her young guards. “I keep telling them to keep going. Really happy for them that it finally went their way.”

To sweep rival Duke for a second consecutive season, and also extend the biggest streak over UNC’s rival in 14 seasons, meant a lot to Kelly.

“It means so much more,” Kelly said. “And we know how important the tradition is, and that’s part of the reason why we chose the school. We knew about the tradition; we knew about the rivalry. So to be a part of it and to sweep for the past two years. I think that feels really good for us. And then that just makes a statement.”

Kelly played over 38 minutes Sunday but said she just has to power through.

“We know that we are more than capable of making it far and winning a championship, honestly,” Kelly said. “It’s just a mental thing, no matter how many minutes we play.”

Duke is one of the best defensive teams in the country, but Carolina handled the Blue Devils’ press that many teams can’t deal with. In the half-court, though, the Blue Devils disrupted the Tar Heels’ offense flow.

“They have multiple elite defenders,” Banghart said. “They can force you to play one v. one. If you get too deep, they’re going to crowd you. They put you in dead space, and they do it really well.”

As good as Duke was on defense, Carolina was better all afternoon.

“I thought they were very disruptive defensively,” said Duke coach Kara Lawson, who missed last season’s home game against UNC because of COVID-19 protocols. “Some was us not being on the same page offensively. One player is running one play, and other players running another play. And some of it is poor decision-making.”

When Ustby got a steal and layup in the first 16 seconds, it was the first of many turnovers for both teams.

The Blue Devils finished the opening quarter with a 9–2 run to take a 14–8 edge into the second quarter.

Duke took a five-point lead on Brown’s layup with 4:47 left in the first before Adams’ 3-pointer ended the Tar Heels’ long scoring drought with 45 seconds left, and the Blue Devils led 20–16 at halftime.

UNC took its first lead since the game’s first four minutes with nine consecutive points.


Six straight points from Ustby, including a steal and layup with 5:56 left in the third quarter, cut what was a seven-point Duke lead early in the second half to two. Anya Poole’s layup off of a Kelly pass tied it. Poole’s transition layup off a McPherson pass gave UNC a 25–23 lead.

A Vanessa de Jesus jumper tied it at 25 with 4:41 left in the third to end a more than four-minute Duke scoring drought. A pair of de Jesus free throws sent the game into the final quarter tied at 29.

Duke’s Elizabeth Balogun was the only player in the game to score in double figures with 12 points. Blue Devils star Celeste Taylor was held to six points and committed nine turnovers.

NOTES — Carolina will play in the second round of the ACC tournament in Greensboro at 6 p.m. Thursday night as the No. 7 seed against the winner of Wednesday’s first-round game between No. 10-seed Clemson (16–14) and No. 15-seed Pittsburgh (10–19). UNC won its only meeting with both in successive road games, beating the Panthers 72–57 on Jan. 26 and the Tigers 69–58 on Jan. 29. … It was UNC’s fifth consecutive game in the state of North Carolina. … This was only the second game this season, the Thursday home loss to Virginia Tech being the first, that 11 players have been available for Carolina. … The large contingent of UNC fans across from the Tar Heels’ bench made a difference. In the first half, loud chants of “defense, defense” could be heard when Duke was on offense and one former Duke player was surprised that there were so many UNC fans. … The Tar Heels won their fourth consecutive game against Duke after losing the previous five, and leads the series 54–51. It’s UNC’s first four-game win streak against the Blue Devils since winning three games in the 2007–08 season, then winning the first game in the 2008–09 season. … Lawson is 0–4 against UNC. … UNC’s women are the only team — men or women — to win at Cameron this season. … Duke scored six points in the second quarter and nine in the third. The final combined total of 86 points marked the lowest total in the 106-game history of the rivalry. … Carolina’s 15 steals were the second-highest in the ACC this season.

No. 22 UNC 45, No. 11 Duke 41

UNC lineup combinations

8–14End 1T-W2–0

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

ACC tournament

Greensboro Coliseum
Final on ESPN; all other games on ACC Network
No. 12 seed Wake Forest (14–15) vs. No. 13 seed Virginia (15–14), 1 p.m.
No. 15 Pittsburgh (10–19) vs. No. 10 Clemson (16–14), 3:30
No. 14 Georgia Tech (13–15) vs. No. 11 Boston College (15–16), 6:30
Thursday’s second round
No. 5 Florida State (23–8) vs. Wake Forest-Virginia winner, 11 a.m.
No. 9 Syracuse (18–11) vs. No. 8 N.C. State (19–10), 2 p.m.
No. 7 North Carolina (20–9) vs. Pittsburgh-Clemson winner, 6 p.m.
No. 6 Miami (18–11) vs. BC-Georgia Tech winner, 8:30
Friday’s quarterfinals
No. 4 Louisville (21–10) vs. Thursday’s 11 a.m. winner, 11 a.m.
No. 1 Notre Dame (24–4) vs. State-Syracuse winner, 2 p.m.
No. 2 Duke (24–5) vs. 6 p.m. Thursday winner, 6 p.m.
No. 3 Virginia Tech (23–4) vs. 8:30 Thursday winner, 8:30
Saturday’s semifinals
Friday afternoon winners, noon
Friday evening winners, 2:30
Sunday’s final
Semifinal winners, 1 p.m.

(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

Photos courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications


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