CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – It was as even a match-up you could find around the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) when the North Carolina Tar Heels hosted the 18th-ranked N.C. State Wolfpack in front of 5,998 in attendance at Carmichael Arena on Sunday.
It usually is – regardless of the two teams’ records, regardless of experience levels, regardless of any rankings – because it was a Carolina versus State game, the 103rd one between them, and more significantly it was a Play4Kay event.
With similar four-guard offensive lineups, the team with the hottest shooting hands would prevail, and with Jamie Cherry, Paris Kea, and Stephanie Watts leading the way, the Tar Heels did just that and beat the Wolfpack 83-70.
“We knew we would have our hands full,” UNC head coach Sylvia Hatchell said.
Pointing to Cherry and Kea, who sat beside her, the Tar Heels coach continued to lay praise on her team for the win.
“I’m really proud of these kids right here, their leadership, just how they kept their poise out there. I told them that, ‘if you guys would just have a good attitude and keep workin’ hard, great things are gonna happen’.”
Tying a school-record 14 3-pointers for the game, Cherry dropped six while Watts added five from beyond the arc to power North Carolina’s offense past N.C. State’s.
Kea’s dynamic 21 points to go with seven rebounds, eight assists and three steals had the Wolfpack scrambling to keep pace.
Dominique Wilson’s 18 points and Miah Spencer’s 15 along with double-double finishes from Jennifer Mathurin (13 points, 10 rebounds) and Chelsea Nelson (11 points, 10 rebounds) weren’t enough.
“Gotta give Carolina a lot of credit, they shot the ball unbelievably well,” N.C. State head coach Wes Moore said.
“That’s tough. On the other hand, we did get a chance to guard them. We didn’t quite get that done. I’m proud of our kids – we dug a hole again, battled back, cut it to five, forced 24 turnovers, got 18 offensive rebounds – we did a lot of good things, a lot of hustle plays. It wasn’t enough today.”
Highlights: UNC 83, N.C. State 70 – ACC Digital Network (TheACC.com)
For UNC (13-9, 2-7), it earned only its second league win and first over a ranked opponent, while for N.C. State (16-6, 6-3), the loss ended a three-game win streak.
Critical to the win was an uncharacteristic 4-of-21 shooting output from the Wolfpack that enabled the Tar Heels to establish a lead at the 6:46 mark of the opening quarter that it never relinquished.
North Carolina led 22-10 after the opening period and maintained a 35-27 advantage at halftime, following a 10-0 run to end the second for N.C. State.
Cherry then ignited to score all of her points during the final 20 minutes of play with Destinee Walker (12 points, 6 rebounds) adding key points from the field to deny a successful comeback attempt by the Wolfpack.
With 6:02 remaining, free throws from Wilson made it a 65-60 game, but Cherry’s hot hand buried a 3-pointer, one of a few “daggers” as Moore described it, that kept N.C. State at a distance for the remainder of the game.
“Tonight, we were just clickin’,” Hatchell said.
“Some of the defensive things we were doing out there, I think it worked and helped take them out of some things they wanted to do. I thought we shared the ball really well – great team basketball.”
It was a symbolic game as the Tar Heels’ Play4Kay event highlighted former Wolfpack head coach Kay Yow’s legacy in raising awareness for Cancer research while her best friend and nemesis in Hatchell battled the disease, specifically Leukemia, three years ago.
“I feel great – I’m 100 percent,” Hatchell said while striking a double-bicep pose.
“It was special because it was Play4Kay. Kay and I had a special relationship. I try to do as much as I can to help the Kay Yow Foundation. Actually, yesterday, our thought of the day was by Kay Yow – ‘when life kicks you, make it kick you forward’. I talked to the players at practice about what this game means. They knew that.”
With that Cherry added to the overall significance of what the win over the Wolfpack meant at this point in the Tar Heels’ season.
“I rank it as one of the best wins we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Cherry said.
“It was exciting. The way we went out, it was even more exciting. We played together. We had fun.”
UNC: Jamie Cherry – 23 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists; Paris Kea – 21 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists; Stephanie Watts – 19 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists; Destinee Walker – 12 points, 6 rebounds
N.C. State: Dominique Wilson – 18 points, 4 rebounds; Miah Spencer – 15 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists; Jennifer Mathurin – 13 points, 10 rebounds; Chelsea Nelson – 11 points, 10 rebounds
UNC 35, N.C. State 27
Led by Kea’s 13 points and Watts’ 11, the Tar Heels converted on 45 percent shooting (13-29), while the Wolfpack relied on two 3-pointers from Williams, one of three with six points, along with Nelson and Spencer, to stay close.
North Carolina scored 14 fast break points from six steals and 10 N.C. State turnovers.
Even while North Carolina committed 12 turnovers, the Wolfpack’s 12 points off those couldn’t overcome a 4-of-21 shooting performance in the first quarter.
N.C. State’s 19-percent shooting performance in the first quarter put the Wolfpack in a position that it never recovered from.
Coupled with Cherry’s and Watt’s explosive three-point shooting, finishing 6-of-9 and 5-of-10, respectively, UNC’s efficient 29-of-55 shooting was more effective than N.C. State’s 23-of-70 output.
Wilson put up a 3-pointer and Kea answered back with a jumper.
A long two-pointer from Walker was outdistanced by a three-pointer from Mathurin and gave N.C. State a 6-4 lead.
Kea’s 3 gave the Tar Heels their first lead of the game.
A long three-pointer from Watts put UNC ahead 12-8 with 4:37 to play.
Both teams traded baskets as a steal by Watts set Kea up for a jumper to extend the lead to six points.
Taylor Koenen (7 points, 4 rebounds) extended the Tar Heels’ advantage to 12 points.
The Wolfpack continued to struggle from the field, shooting 4-21 from the field, and UNC carried a 22-10 lead into the next period by converting on 53 percent of its shot attempts.
While N.C. State turned the ball over, Watts’ 3 from the top and a jumper from Kea pushed UNC further ahead, 27-11 with 7:42 remaining.
Spencer dropped her first three-pointer and tried to keep the Wolfpack’s pace up to match that of the Tar Heels.
Kea continued to stay hot and Koenen added a 3 that put the Tar Heels up 34-17 with five minutes to go in the half.
A baseline drive by Nelson and a dish to a wide-open Spencer found a soft spot in the Tar Heels defense.
Playing tighter defensively, the Wolfpack started to climb back up, trailing 35-24 with 1:35 remaining.
Ashley Williams (9 points, 2 rebounds) kept a hot hand too, and her second straight 3-pointer cut the deficit to single digits.
A 10-0 run pulled N.C. State closer, trailing the Tar Heels 35-27 at halftime.
Both sides traded baskets and misses early.
State pulled to within seven in the first two minutes of play, but back-to-back bombs from Watts and Cherry reestablished a double-digit lead for the Tar Heels.
Williams’ third 3-pointer cut the UNC lead to 10 points, 45-35, at the 7:35 mark.
Back-to-back 3-pointers, one from the left and the other from the right side, pushed North Carolina ahead 51-35 just 90 seconds later.
Turnovers and missed shots highlighted play at both ends for the next few minutes and allowed the Tar Heels to keep a 56-42 lead with 2:32 remaining.
The Wolfpack struggled to drain easy putbacks, and relied on driving the lane to earn points at the free throw line.
Even while turning the ball over, UNC maintained its rhythm, and led 58-43 with a minute remaining.
Effective use of Koenen in the high post created a smooth pick-and-roll from Walker to her and then to Cherry for a three-pointer from the left wing.
The Tar Heels led 61-45 heading into the final period
N.C. State finally began to connect and put together a 7-0 run led by Mathurin and Wilson during the first minute-and-a-half.
A dribble-drive to the block by Kea over Mathurin dropped, but the Wolfpack forward one-upped the effort with a three at the other end.
UNC led 63-55 with seven minutes remaining.
A full press and double on the ball by N.C. State created some problems for North Carolina.
All of a sudden, Spencer’s free throws made it a 65-60 game.
Cherry kept firing while Nelson picked up rebounds inside.
UNC led 68-62 with five minutes remaining.
Once again, Cherry dropped a bomb beyond the arc and extended the UNC lead to nine points.
Walker helped with a three-pointer of her own and it was still a 10-point game, 74-64, in the Tar Heels’ favor with 3:11 to go.
N.C. State played harder on defense and it paid off with an and-1 from Wilson and a foul on Watts.
Regardless, the Tar Heels still hit from the outside as Watts’ 3 reestablished a 10-point margin, 77-67.
It then became a game of inches and shots from the free throw line.
The Tar Heels led 79-67 at the 1:15 mark.
UNC converted 4-of-4 from the line while the Wolfpack couldn’t pull closer much closer from the line or the field.