CHAPEL HILL—In the eyes of North Carolina fans, Sunday afternoon started as one that would be remembered as the day Tar Heel head coach Sylvia Hatchell was honored for her 1,000 career wins. In the end, it will be remembered for much more than that.
No. 15 Duke walked out of Carmichael Arena with a loss after seeing its 19-point lead cut to one multiple times and then relinquished for a mere 17 seconds in regulation. Just before the horn sounded in the fourth quarter, North Carolina's Paris Kea hit a 3-pointer to send the game to overtime, and the redshirt junior poured in 36 points as the Tar Heels went on to defeat the Blue Devils 92-86.
“We were trying to do something else really to try to get it to Leah [Church],” North Carolina head coach Sylvia Hatchell said of the game-tying play in regulation. “I was trying to do a diagonal screen, sort of a flare-type screen and crosscourt pass for Leah to shoot it, but it wasn’t there, so Taylor [Koenen] threw it into Paris.”
Church, a freshman who entered the day averaging 3.1 points per contest off the bench, exploded for a career-high 19 points on five made triples, and Kea also knocked down five threes. After starting the game cold from deep, the Tar Heels converted 13 3-point shots, including four in the overtime period, to propel them to victory.
“You’ve really got to keep [Kea] in front of you and work hard to do that. Now she’s a very good player, so you’ve got to give her credit for ball-faking and getting in there,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “But the three balls, we weren’t in her face, we didn’t make her put the ball on the floor. Again, you have to drive her off the line.”
Graduate student Lexie Brown’s 19 points and 10 rebounds were not enough, and redshirt sophomore Haley Gorecki, after scoring a career-high 28 points against Virginia Tech, bested that again with 29 points on 7-of-15 shooting from long range.
In the final 90 seconds of the game, with the Blue Devils up five points, Brown, one of the best free-throw shooters in the ACC, missed both free throws, and Rebecca Greenwell also missed a free throw in the final 10 seconds to leave the door open for Kea.
“I think it was just the high-pressure moment. As a senior, you don’t miss those free throws. That’s all on me. That had nothing to do with the game, nothing to do with them,” Brown said. “Just a mental loss on our parts. But going 2-for-6 from the free throw line, that’s unheard of and absurd and I take that completely, and if I could have made one of those free throws, the game would’ve been over.”
After Greenwell’s miss, North Carolina’s Jamie Cherry took the ball the length of the court, weaving through the defense before having it knocked away with a few ticks left on the clock.
“Cherry did a nice job taking off down the floor,” McCallie said. “We missed a couple opportunities down there [to foul]. I think it was a great time-and-score game.”
In front of the roaring crowd, North Carolina opened up an eight-point lead in overtime after back-to-back 3-pointers from Church. With less than 70 seconds remaining, Gorecki hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to five, but the Blue Devils were unable to come back after leading for most of the game.
The loss snapped Duke's seven-game win streak against its biggest rival. After shooting lights out for much of the first half, the Blue Devils (15-5, 4-3 in the ACC) finished shooting 52.6 percent and knocked down 11 3-pointers, but committed 26 costly turnovers.
In Brown's first game after notching 1,000 career points at Duke, she scored early and often, including 10 points in the opening period, to stake the Blue Devils to an early lead. After North Carolina (14-6, 4-3) tied the score in the first quarter at 9-9, the Blue Devils regrouped and went on an 18-2 run stretching into the beginning of the second quarter to take a comfortable lead on the heels of the Tar Heels' 27 percent shooting in the opening 10 minutes.
“[Brown’s] one heck of a player.... We were doing about everything we could on her,” Hatchell said. “Down the stretch, I thought we did as good as we could on her.”
Gorecki put up 10 second-quarter points to help the Blue Devils extend their advantage, but North Carolina closed the half on a 13-2 run which rejuvenated the home crowd. Duke was held without a made basket in the final 3:35 of the half, and Kea led the surge with 10 points in the quarter.
The third quarter opened with seven more Tar Heel points in a row to cap a 20-2 run and trim the Duke lead to one, forcing McCallie to call timeout. Out of the break, Brown knocked down a corner three to halt the run, and Gorecki connected on a three of her own to extend the lead to 47-40.
Senior Erin Mathias added 13 points and seven rebounds, as the Blue Devils outrebounded their rivals 41-27. The Tar Heels were led by freshman center Janelle Bailey, who grabbed a team-high 12 boards on the afternoon.
With only a few seconds remaining in the third quarter, Cherry knocked down a 3-pointer to cut the lead to one entering the final 10 minutes of play. After Brown hit one free throw to open the final period, North Carolina stormed back with a 3-pointer to give the home team its first and only lead of the game.
“Giving up 92 points is an awful lot of points to give up. We fought, we did some really neat things in time and score,” McCallie said. “There are some good things to look out for us, but obviously we were disappointed from our end, and again, they finished and they finished strong.”
A Mathias basket and a Gorecki three started a 10-0 run that appeared to be the final push Duke needed, but the Blue Devils somehow watched an eight-point lead slip away in the last 1:30 of regulation.
The story of the game turned out to be an inability to hold onto the ball for Duke. McCallie singled out the team’s giveaways as the deciding factor in the defeat.
“This game, to me, is not free throws,” McCallie said. “It’s 26 ridiculous turnovers.”
Duke will return home to Cameron Indoor Stadium Thursday night against a struggling Boston College team at 7 p.m. The Blue Devils will look to regroup after suffering their fifth road loss of the season and third in ACC play.
“These games are always scrappy and, like I said, we scrap too,” McCallie said. “They punched at us and we got outside of ourselves. That’s not a pleasant feeling. We have to give them credit and take the lesson and think about it and get better for it.”
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