CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The then twelfth-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels couldn’t defend their court and fell 74-67 in overtime to the then 15th-ranked and area-rival Duke Blue Devils in front of a sold out crowd of 6,822 at Carmichael Arena on Sunday.
The win pulled Duke (14-6, 5-2) ahead of North Carolina (17-4, 4-3) in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) standings.
“It was a scrappy game,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said.
“It was a very good defensive game, without question. Just I think a lot of heart and hustle on the floor. I think you saw a lot of dives, a lot of loose balls. I think it was a heart game, very much, a heart game.”
Center Elizabeth Williams and guards Rebecca Greenwell and Ka’lia Johnson each posted double-doubles to lead the Blue Devils.
Center Stephanie Mavunga answered with a double-double (15 points, 15 rebounds) for the Tar Heels to go along with double-digit efforts from forward Allisha Gray and guard Latifah Coleman.
“It was a great game,” North Carolina head coach Sylvia Hatchell said.
“We had our chances. At halftime we were up by ten, and rebounding was only two. They ended up out-rebounding us by 14. I thought that was a really big factor.”
Williams posted a career-high 33 points to go along with 10 rebounds, four blocks, three assists and two steals, while Greenwell earned her fifth double-double of the season and first in ACC play with 14 points and a career-high 14 rebounds.
Johnson’s 14 points, four rebounds, and four assists were critical during the final 10 minutes of play and into the overtime period.
It was a game that highlighted both teams’ strengths and weaknesses.
Duke’s length provided a challenge for the Tar Heels inside play as they were outscored by a 46-18 margin in the paint, while turnovers provided UNC with opportunities to overtake Duke at key moments.
Gray’s three triples helped to propel her team-high 20-point, five-rebound finish, while Coleman’s two three-pointers contributed to 14 points, four rebounds, and four assists that powered the Tar Heels offense to put together critical runs against the Blue Devils.
While winning a close road game over N.C. State (67-63) on Thursday, the Tar Heels wanted to ensure that that the Blue Devils wouldn’t end their current five-game road-losing streak across 15-501.
Duke’s struggles away from Cameron Indoor Stadium had become an issue.
Their 60-56 loss to Boston College on Thursday extended a trend that the program hadn’t experienced since a six-game losing stretch from the 1993-94 and 1994-95 seasons.
In the end, the Blue Devils overcame another deficit on the road and took advantage of a poor second-half shooting performance from the Tar Heels.
Mavunga got North Carolina going early, scoring two straight field goals while Duke freshman forward Azura Stevens (8 points, 6 rebounds), along with Williams, answered back.
Both teams struggled from the field and committed turnovers while trying to break down each defense.
Greenwell put Duke ahead 9-8 on successive shot attempts – hitting a three and a pull-up jumper from the right elbow.
The Blue Devils then put together a 12-3 run with Williams, Johnson and Amber Henson (3 points, 7 rebounds) helping to push the margin over the Tar Heels to 19-11 by the midpoint of the half.
UNC’s saving grace was its free-throw shooting which was 7-of-8 up to that point.
Coleman then scored six points on her own – dropping shots on three different possessions to bring the packed house to its feet.
A steal and a jumper followed up by a free throw and a three singlehandedly pulled the Tar Heels to within two points, trailing 21-19 just two minutes later.
Even while North Carolina had converted on only 2-of-19 from the field up to that point, Butts stole the ball and tied the game on a layup.
The momentum had shifted to the Tar Heels’ favor.
Coleman extended the lead by two with successful free throws, and added to an 8-0 run that capitalized on four Duke turnovers.
Duke tied it at 23-all, but Mavunga’s jumper regained the lead for North Carolina as it kept pushing its transition offense along.
Butts and Coleman continued to do their work on defense and converted the effort into more points.
It was a 17-7 run capped off by a Coleman three-pointer that gave North Carolina a 38-28 lead at halftime.
“Well we just weren’t very happy about it,” McCallie said of her team’s effort during the opening 20 minutes.
“We wanted more energy. We wanted more aggression. It’s very important to be better in the second half than you are in the first. And I think I’ve talked to Elizabeth about that and Becca. It’s great to have a good first half, any team or any individual, but the players, the real players come alive in the second half to make things happen. And I think that was significant for us today. We had improvement, and aggression, and more energy in the second half and even rolling into the over time.”
The Blue Devils came out quickly in the second half and post an 11-3 run that pulled them to within two points.
Duke’s defensive play was more aggressive, yet still regimented in its long zone setup.
While Williams put up a layup, Gray’s three pushed the UNC lead to 44-39 with 17 minutes to play.
The two continued to trade baskets, but while missed shots plagued the Tar Heels, the Blue Devils made the most of their opportunities.
Trailing 47-44, Duke simplified its offense and worked to get into the paint and to the foul line, and soon came to within a point, trailing 49-48.
However, the turnovers didn’t stop, and Gray scored North Carolina’s next five points as a result.
Stevens then picked up her fourth foul and it seemed that the Blue Devils were not in a good spot, trailing 54-50 with 11:32 to play.
Even so, Duke eventually saw an opportunity and seized it.
Johnson was pivotal in helping tie the game 54-54, dropping a jumper and then dishing a pass off to Williams for the open layup.
Greenwell and Oderah Chidom (4 points, 5 rebounds) forced Butts to turn it over and it was Chidom who put the Blue Devils ahead by two with 8:34 to play.
Though quiet for much of the half, Mavunga then came alive and evened the score at 56-56.
Duke almost seemed to want to give the Tar Heels the chance to take the lead back by committing four more turnovers.
However, North Carolina didn’t take advantage of the opportunities – with free throw and field goal attempts coming up empty.
Both teams went scoreless for the next three-and-a-half minutes until Williams finally scored on a layup at 4:48.
A pass from Chidom facilitated the and-1 opportunity that the Duke center claimed to put the Blue Devils ahead 59-56.
Chidom came up with another big play, a block on an open layup opportunity from UNC’s Hillary Summers that kept the Tar heels back a little longer.
With four minutes to play, N’Dea Bryant (6 points, 4 rebounds) finally ended the drought and scored for the Tar Heels.
Williams was still in a groove at that point, and she caught another pass in the paint and scored with a shot from the line to follow.
“Well first half, we played really good defense,” Hatchell said.
“Second half they started taking it inside all the time and coming off screens a lot. That really bothered us. When we were pressuring the guards, it really helped because they had quite a few turnovers. Once they got it down there and they were running that triple post thing and feeding high-low, we weren’t keeping Elizabeth from getting the ball. She touches the ball and she’s going to turn to the right side and she’s really good at just laying it over the rim.”
A double-dribble from Coleman was the type of mental error that the Tar Heels couldn’t afford to make late in the game, but did.
On the other hand, Duke wasn’t perfect and allowed the home side to stick around, holding on to a slim 62-58 lead with 1:40 to play.
Another turnover, a steal by Mavunga, and North Carolina capitalized with Bryant scoring again.
Trailing Duke by two with 56 seconds to play, the Tar Heels had a chance to tie it – and did.
Mavunga was fouled inside and went to the line.
She scored the first and Duke called a timeout to ice her.
The break in momentum didn’t affect her as she evened it up 62-62 with 37.8 seconds to play.
Duke had possession and called a timeout as Stevens cautiously carried it up the floor past the center line.
There were 20 seconds on the shot clock and 27.3 remaining to play.
As Williams dribbled the ball, she passed it to Johnson who put up a three-attempt that missed.
On the ensuing loose-ball scramble, the Tar Heels claimed possession with 8.3 seconds to go and had a chance to win the game.
Coleman made the final-seconds drive to the basket, but Williams denied the attempt to score with a big block and both teams headed to overtime.
More turnovers and lost opportunities came from both teams, but it was Duke who eventually came up as the victor and last one standing.
Carolina’s shooting hands stayed cold while Greenwell’s heated up, scoring a three that had the Blue Devils leading by five, 67-62, with 3:39 remaining.
“Once I had it, I was excited, hoping it was going to go in,” Greenwell said.
“And thankfully it did.”
Butts then had a chance to cut the margin from the free throw line, but missed them both.
Duke continued to show lapses in finishing, but had enough of a polish to build on its lead which stood at 69-62 with two minutes to play.
Johnson intercepted a pass and was fouled hard into the padded basket stanchion, but got up quickly to extend lead to eight points.
Even while Bryant dropped a jumper from the top of the paint, and a steal and a layup from Gray brought the Tar Heels to within four points, Duke held on.
Stevens laid one up and Duke’s lead stood at 72-66 with 29.8 seconds remaining.
Coleman was fouled by Johnson and scored one of two from the free throw line.
The Tar Heels got the rebound and Coleman put up a three-point attempt, but missed.
Johnson was fouled and scored both free throws to finalize the Duke win at 74-67.
UNC called a timeout with 10.9 seconds to go, but couldn’t add anything else as the Blue Devils’ 12-5 run in overtime was too much to overcome.
“We should use our speed to our advantage,” Mavunga said.
“I don’t think we did that a lot. I feel like we should’ve just gone into them more and really drove. I swear we found our strength in the game and we started trying to fade away from that in the second half. That makes a big difference because we were doing that in the first half. We got a lot of them in foul trouble. Had we continued to do that, then it might’ve been a whole different ball game.”