CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The 22-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels suffered their second consecutive loss of the season, a 79-77 decision to the Oregon Ducks at Carmichael Arena on Sunday.
With 1.3 seconds remaining, a three-point attempt from North Carolina guard Jamie Cherry, launched from two steps behind the arc, hit the backboard and the front iron but didn’t go in as the final horn sounded.
It was another close loss for a Tar Heels squad that is short on players and experience, but not on talent.
Cherry (23 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds) led three other double-digit scorers – Hillary Summers, Destinee Walker, and Stephanie Watts – who all posted 14 points apiece for the Tar Heels.
Coming off a disappointing final-second 66-65 loss to Gardner-Webb on Friday, North Carolina had its hands full against a Ducks squad that finished shooting 51 percent from the field and 45 percent from beyond the arc.
Led by guard Lexi Bando’s 18 points and a double-double performance from forward Jillian Alleyne (12 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists), Oregon created space and took advantage of a young and short-benched North Carolina team that was still adjusting to playing together.
N’Dea Bryant’s eight rebounds and five steals highlighted the Tar Heels’ defensive efforts, and rounded out a six-player rotation that averaged 31 minutes against a deeper and bigger-sized Oregon roster.
“They say that you learn more from losing than winning,” North Carolina head coach Sylvia Hatchell said.
“The other night – one point – and then today Jamie’s shot could have easily been in, but it didn’t go in. The thing is, we’re improving. We just need some time and a couple of more bodies.”
Playing without senior forward Xylina McDaniel who is recovering from a calf strain injury, Hatchell hopes that with her possibly playing as early as next weekend, that the team’s development will continue to progress upwards.
Hatchell indicated that her team’s defensive play was not there yet; “gettin’ lost at times,” as she put it.
Strong outside shooting from Oregon (1-0) took advantage of a compact UNC perimeter defense, but it needed time to get going.
North Carolina (0-2) led early on, stringing together a 7-0 run before Oregon was able to compose itself offensively.
Both teams ran the floor at both ends, and the shootout started.
The Tar Heels led 24-18 at the end of the first quarter, while Oregon took a two point edge in the second quarter as North Carolina held a 42-38 edge at halftime.
The most impressive play of the third quarter came when Watts set Walker up for a layup that gave the Tar Heels a 49-48 lead.
However, Oregon had a big third quarter and led 65-59 as both teams began the final 10 minutes of play.
The Ducks were still ahead, by as many as 10, leading 73-63 with six minutes remaining.
The Tar Heels pressed harder on defense, but the Ducks still found openings to put up points.
At the other end, while North Carolina tried to work its fast break offense, Oregon was just as quick to transition into a zone defense.
However, Cherry still managed to drop a three and pulled the Tar Heels to within three points with 4:31 to play.
After Oregon missed on its possession, Summers stopped-and-popped a two and made it a one-point game.
A three from Bando extended the advantage back up to four points for the Ducks.
“It’s a big part of our game,” Oregon coach Kelly Graves said.
“We separated a little bit from them. That’s part of who were are – we like to shoot the three.”
Bryant’s jumper in the paint pulled UNC back closer, as the Ducks led 76-74 with two minutes to go.
Both teams tightened up their defense and worked the offense from the free throw line.
The Tar Heels trailed 78-74 with a minute to play.
Oregon’s defense played an aggressive zone that made it difficult for North Carolina to penetrate.
North Carolina was still faced with a four-point deficit with 39.2 seconds remaining.
After an official video review, a disputed loose ball possession call went in the Tar Heels’ favor.
Cherry got the ball and dropped a three from the right wing with 26 seconds left on the clock.
The difference was back down to one.
With the full-court press on from the Tar Heels, the Ducks managed to inbound the ball and went to the line to extend the lead back up to two points.
With the ball in her hands once again, it was up to Cherry to drop the game-winner.
She put up the shot, but it didn’t make it through the basket – another final-second finish, and another loss.
Even so, with four home games coming up in the next seven days, the Tar Heels expect to experience more positive results.
“They battled and fought hard and did what they needed to,” Hatchell said.
“They’re hangin’ in there, and they’re workin’ hard. It’s early and we’re gonna get a whole lot better. Don’t count us out because there’s nobody who’s gonna work harder than these kids. ”