By R.L. Bynum
GREENSBORO — No. 18 Carolina missed chances down the stretch against No. 13 Duke in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals, and the Tar Heels now hope they don’t miss the chance to be an NCAA tournament host in two weeks because of that.
No. 7-seed UNC had two chances to take the lead on 3-point attempts in the final 45 seconds. But, after a third shot from outside the arc was blocked, Shayeann Day-Wilson’s free throw with three seconds left secured a gritty 44–40 win Friday for No. 2 seed Duke to avenge a pair of regular-season losses to its rival.
Carolina (21–10) had its chances despite season-lows for points (40), field goals (15), free throws (5, tying the season-low), shooting (24.2%), points in a quarter (4 in the fourth) and shooting in a quarter (12.5% in the fourth.)
UNC Coach Courtney Banghart thought her team should have been a No. 4 seed and a host last season but was denied. She hopes the tournament committee factors in that three of Carolina’s losses came when Alyssa Ustby and Eva Hodgson were out with injuries.
“I think because we had some guys out, I don’t think those losses hurt us as bad,” Banghart said. “When you look at the numbers and you look at the quality wins and you look at top-25 wins and you look at bad losses, we don’t have any of those. Whatever your metric is, it seems pretty promising.”
ESPN still projects a No. 4 seed for Carolina even after the loss to the Blue Devils (25–5). Now, UNC has to wait nine days to see where the seeds fall.
“I am really crossing my fingers,” said Ustby, who played 71 of the 80 minutes in the two ACC Tournament games, finishing with eight points, five rebounds and three assists against Duke. “I hope that they see our potential. But, either way, we’re going to be ready to play.”
This style of the game wasn’t all that different than Sunday’s 45–41 UNC win. But Carolina, playing for the second consecutive day against a rested Duke team, couldn’t make the shots at the end like it did in Durham.
“There’s a lot of things these guys did well,” said Banghart, whose team got 12 more shots than Duke. “We didn’t make enough shots, unfortunately. Defensively, they were solid all day. One of the better defensive teams that there is.”
Carolina combined to force 44 Duke turnovers in the last two games, but the Blue Devils’ 47–31 rebounding advantage somewhat countered that.
Like Sunday’s game, it was physical.
“It’s definitely always a physical game,” said Deja Kelly, who scored a team-high 11 points (but needed 22 shots to get her four field goals) and had four rebounds and three assists. “I feel like in our games, the refs let us play a little more on both sides. It’s a rivalry game; emotions are high, so it’s definitely going to get physical.”
Center Anya Poole scored two straight layups off of nice driving McPherson passes, the second one giving UNC a 40–38 lead with 4:13 left. But Carolina went scoreless the rest of the way, missing their last six shots.
“The shots just weren’t falling,” said Poole, who had six points and six rebounds. “We were getting good shots.”
Reigan Richardson hit a short jumper, and Duke took a 42–40 lead on two Elizabeth Balogun free throws with 1:58 left. Hodgson got a steal with 49 seconds left, but she and Kelly each missed 3-point attempts with a chance to give UNC the lead. Shayeann Day-Wilson split a pair of free throws with 30.4 seconds left to put Duke up by three.
After Richardson blocked Kennedy Todd-Williams’ 3-point attempt with four seconds left, Day-Wilson’s free throw with three seconds left put the game away.
“I think even that very last possession, DK had an open three, they fought hard for the rebound. Toddy made that great pass over to Eva, open three. If those go in, we’re sitting here differently,” Banghart said. “I want these guys to continue to have chances to win basketball games, and they did that. This was one of those games that it really can go either way, and I think it came down to not making open shots.”
Hodgson, who scored four 3-pointers in Thursday’s 68–58 second-round win over Clemson, hit two Friday and had another shot blocked to finish with six points. One year ago, Hodgson’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer sent UNC’s quarterfinal game against Virginia Tech into overtime before the Hokies prevailed.
That shot popped into her head in the last minute
“Every game right now in March, it’ll bring that memory back,” Hodgson said. “It was a big moment then, and we’re looking for another one tonight. But, unfortunately, we couldn’t execute.”
It was the fourth time in the last six games that UNC has either gone to overtime or had a game decided by four points or fewer. The Tar Heels went 2–2 in those games.
“It’s tough when you rely on it to come down to last shot of the games,” Hodgson said. “It’s incredibly frustrating. But I think, for us, we still have a lot of learning moments. We’ve been able to learn and keep moving and, thankfully, we’re still playing. Hopefully, we can shift some things and get away from the one-possession games and try to capitalize more earlier in the game to give us a little bit of cushion.”
You want the ball in the hands of your best 3-point shooters in those big situations, but neither Hodgson and Kelly could get a shot to fall.
“So we knew what kind of game it was going to be and that it would really come down to us putting the ball in the basket because of how low-scoring the game was last time we played them,” Kelly said.
McPherson had most of the ball-handling duties in the game, finishing with two assists, three turnovers and two steals but overall had an efficient game and was a team-high +6. That allowed Kelly to play more off the ball.
“That’s the beauty of having multiple guards that can handle it,” Banghart said.
UNC beat the Duke press a few times early but poor decisions spoiled a couple of chances.
The Blue Devils led by four in the first quarter before a Paulina Paris 3-pointer cut the lead to 9–8 heading into the second quarter. UNC took a three-point lead with a 6–2 run that Ustby capped with a 3-pointer and free throw.
UNC surged to a 14–5 run that included a Kelly four-point play. The Heels took a 24–16 lead on a pair of Todd-Williams free throws with 1:10 left and led 24–19 at halftime.
Carolina had six steals and forced 13 turnovers with good defense but committed only three fouls and Duke didn’t attempt a free throw in the first half.
A pair of Hodgson 3-pointers pushed UNC’s lead to nine in the first two minutes of the second half before a 13–4 Duke run tied it with 1:02 left. A short Ustby jumper with 42 seconds left gave the Heels a 36–34 lead after three quarters.
Balogun scored 11 points and Richardson 10 to lead Duke.
NOTES — The game surpassed the record for the fewest points in a UNC-Duke game that the teams set on Sunday. … Carolina failed to advance to the ACC Tournament semifinals for the ninth consecutive season. The Tar Heels lost to Duke 66–61 in their last semifinal appearance in 2014. … The Tar Heels are 64–37 all-time in the ACC Tournament. … UNC is 16–6 with a starting lineup of Kelly, Hodgson, Todd-Williams, Ustby and Poole, and 5–4 with other lineups. … Duke snapped a four-game losing streak to UNC, which still leads the series 54–52. The Blue Devils’ previous win before Friday was in 2020, a 73–54 victory. … The Blue Devils are 8–6 all-time against UNC in the ACC Tournament, including wins in each of the last four meetings. … After Duke didn’t attempt a free throw in the first half, Carolina only attempted one in the second half. … Duke’s 44 points were the fewest by a winning team in the ACC Tournament’s 46-year history. N.C. State (45–54 over Clemson in 2004), Miami (45–39 over Virginia Tech in 2013) and Georgia Tech (45–40 over Wake Forest last year) previously shared the record. … The 84 combined points tied the 2013 Miami-Virginia Tech game for the fewest in an ACC Tournament contest.
No. 13 Duke 44, No. 18 UNC 40
UNC lineup combinations
Final on ESPN; all other games on ACC Network
Wednesday’s first round
No. 12-seed Wake Forest 68, vs. No. 13-seed Virginia (15–15) 57
No. 10 Clemson 71, No. 15 Pittsburgh (10–20) 53
No. 11 Boston College 62, No. 14 Georgia Tech (13–16) 57
Thursday’s second round
Wake Forest 65, No. 5 Florida State (23–9) 54
No. 8 N.C. State 83, No. 9 Syracuse (18–12) 58
No. 7 North Carolina 68, vs. Clemson (17–14) 58
No. 6 Miami 84, vs. Boston College (16–16) 69
No. 4 Louisville 74, Wake Forest (16–16) 48
No. 1 Notre Dame 66, N.C. State (20–11) 60
No. 2 Duke 44, North Carolina (21–10) 40
No. 3 Virginia Tech 68, Miami (19–11) 42
Louisville 64, Notre Dame (25–5) 38
Virginia Tech 58, Duke (25–6) 37
Virginia Tech (26–4) 75, Louisville (23–11) 67
|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 the ACC