GREENSBORO, N.C.—With his team trailing 62-61, North Carolina associate head coach Andrew Calder was animated that his team did not foul Duke freshman forward Oderah Chidom when it had the chance to with 18.6 seconds to play.
Following a Blue Devil timeout, the Tar Heels fouled Chidom. She had only shot 55 percent from the charity stripe all season. But with 17.5 seconds to play she stepped to the line a swished a pair of free throws that put Duke up 64-61.
On the next possession, Chidom sank two more free throws to seal the game to send her team to the championship game of the ACC tournament with a 66-61 victory.
“Oderah is a competitor,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “I could see that Oderah was sort of pleased that they fouled her. I looked in Oderah’s eyes and said, ‘she is going to make these.’ She is a person of character who’s going to step up.”
The No. 4 Blue Devils had fallen to the No. 14 Tar Heels in each of their two regular-season matchups before triumphing in postseason play. Duke will face No. 2 Notre Dame with a conference tournament title on the line Friday at 7 p.m.
Trailing 59-55 with two minutes to play in the game, senior guard Tricia Liston capitalized off of a North Carolina turnover and drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
“I’m really proud of our fight and particularly the execution down the stretch,” McCallie said. “North Carolina is a very, very good team. We didn’t really do much to stop their primary go to [players]. But we worked hard to.”
After forward Stephanie Mavunga made one of two free throws on the other end to extend the Tar Heel lead to two points, Haley Peters missed a jumper, but center Elizabeth Williams was underneath the basket to put back the miss.
North Carolina guard Latifah Coleman drove to the basket, but Williams altered her shot just enough that it rolled off the rim into the hands of Mavunga. Williams this time swatted the ball away and into the hands of Ka’lia Johnson who was fouled in a fight for the ball.
“I was not really in a position where I could foul,” Williams said about the block. “I felt like I could get a pretty clean block out of it. I tried to get my hand on the ball and keep my contact away from her.”
A pair of free throws from Johnson gave the Blue Devils a 62-60 advantage, their first lead of the second half. However, the Tar Heels had a chance to tie the game when Williams fouled forward N’Dea Bryant in the act of shooting, sending her to the line and Williams to the bench with her fifth foul.
Bryant, split the free throws with 44.1 seconds to play and Chidom was fouled on the next possession.
Now down by three points, North Carolina’s Diamond DeShields, whose five three pointers accounted for 15 of her 25 total points, DeShields demanded the ball and launched a three pointer from the wing. The shot went in-and-out, with Chidom there for the rebound.
Calder said he would definitely go to DeShields again in the same situation.
“She’s won us a lot of basketball games,” he said. “She is going to have the basketball in her hands. That’s my loyalty to her, because she can make great plays.”
The Blue Devils ran out of the starting gate, jumping out to an 8-0 lead, Duke’s largest of the game. But the Tar Heels kept pace, never falling behind more than six points until they tied the score when Xylina Daniel’s three-point play put the score at 31-31.
When DeShields heated up and scored nine points in the opening four minutes of the second half, her team built a comfortable 40-33 lead. But, the Blue Devils continued to chew away at that lead, only allowing DeShields to score seven points during the remainder of the game.
Ten first half turnovers prevented the Blue Devils from taking advantage of North Carolina’s 32.4 percent field goal percentage and cushioning their first half lead. DeShields was held to just nine points in the opening half, but fellow freshman Allisha Gray totaled 11 points, while Mavunga had nine.
Still, Duke’s defense put together an effort that produced seven second half turnovers and held the Tar Heel offense to 34 percent shooting on the game. Friday night, the Blue Devils held opponent Georgia Tech to just 24 percent from the floor.
"The value of rebounding and the value of really measured defense, where you are focused on trying to take away the strong hand of [another team],” McCallie said. “We had to get detailed and focused. We can have no distractions, it is hard work out there.”
Even though Duke has been rattled by a number of injuries this season, the team is adapting to life without guards Chelsea Gray, Alexis Jones and Chloe Wells. Everyone is taking their new roles in stride and is making big plays late in games that has helped the Blue Devils reach tomorrow’s championship matchup.
"We have gone through a lot as a team and it hasn’t really worn us down emotionally,” forward Haley Peters said. “It has just made us become a closer team and we just want to be as good as we can be. It’s been a fun challenge since [Alexis] Jones got hurt, with all of us in playing new roles and trying to get to know each other in our new identity. We’ve been energized by it.”