North Carolina’s top two scorers are freshman guards. It is easy to forget their age when you watch them dominate a game.
Diamond DeShields and Allisha Gray took Cameron Indoor Stadium by storm Monday evening, combining for 54 points to spark No. 17 North Carolina’s 89-78 upset of No. 3 Duke. The Tar Heels never trailed and got big plays from DeShields and Gray every time the Blue Devils threatened to get close.
"[Gray] took over,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “She did a great job. We know that [DeShields] did a great job, but I think [Gray] was the difference-maker in the game. That’s clear in terms of how she was getting her points.”
The duo’s biggest plays came with the Blue Devils down 63-61 with 8:00 left in the game after a 10-2 Duke run. DeShields calmly sank one of her five 3-pointers on the evening before Gray converted a Blue Devil turnover into an old-fashioned three-point play. Duke never got closer than six points after that.
Gray added 12 more points down the stretch—including two more three-point plays—to seal North Carolina’s first win at Cameron Indoor Stadium since 2008. The Blue Devils (22-3, 9-2 in the ACC) struggled to locate Gray from the opening tip.
The Sandersville, Ga., native knocked down a 3-pointer 10 seconds into the game to spark North Carolina’s 10-2 run to open the contest. Behind the play of a backcourt duo that was experiencing the Tobacco Road rivalry for the first time, the Tar Heels (18-6, 6-4) did not look at all like a reeling squad that had lost three games in a row.
"I think it was something we needed to experience. For us, losing can be losses—they can be just that—or they can be learning experiences," DeShields said. "I'm thankful for those losses at this point because it really helped us. I'm not sure if we would have played as well as we did tonight if we had won those ballgames. It lit a fire under us, and it showed tonight."
Although Gray took advantage of her first of many open looks on the evening, DeShields—North Carolina’s leading scorer—threw up an air ball, much to the delight of a raucous Duke crowd.
“I thought it was hilarious,” DeShields said. “I knew [the crowd] was going to tear me up. It’s part of the experience coming here.”
DeShields responded to her early moment of embarrassment by making her next six shots and taking advantage of Duke’s miscues.
The Blue Devils dominated the paint—scoring their first 20 points in the paint thanks to All-American center Elizabeth Williams’ career day—but missed far too many opportunities that resulted in transition buckets for the Tar Heels.
Much like Notre Dame guards Kayla McBride and Jewell Loyd, DeShields and Gray were more than happy to take advantage of the increased real estate to spark a road victory.
When it looked like the Blue Devils could finally grab the lead early in the second half after cutting the lead to one with 17:02 left, DeShields—who had missed her last five shots at the time—turned a missed jumper by Williams into transition points for North Carolina.
Gray would add a three-point play before DeShields—now back in a rhythm—knocked down her next two long jumpers to stretch the lead to 10 with 11:06 left in the game.
“I give all the credit to my teammates—they found me,” DeShields said. “I created a couple of shots when we needed them, but they did a good job of getting me the ball. In the second half, I was getting face-guarded, so it was harder, but I took advantage of the opportunities I had. I knew I needed to perform.”
DeShields and Gray were also able to use their success to facilitate for their teammates in transition. Sophomore Xylina McDaniel had 15 points—including three 3-pointers—and the Tar Heels finished with 12 treys as a team.
The Blue Devils were once again unable to communicate well enough to shut off an athletic opponent’s transition opportunities.
“I felt like we were in a position to do quite well,” McCallie said. “But then there were some transition breakaways, so suddenly instead of being down five, you’re down eight or nine.”
Duke must now reassess its defensive priorities after two consecutive double-digit losses at home keyed by athletic guards feasting in transition. The Blue Devils play two more ranked teams capable of punishing them in transition—Maryland and N.C. State—before a rematch with the Fighting Irish in South Bend Feb. 23.
“Defense is something that this team generally wants other people to do,” McCallie said. “We don’t get into defense. We’re playing defense to get the ball back on offense. Our transition defense has been awful. The difference in the game [was] transition defense.”