By Peter Koutroumpis
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – It was the type of knock down, drag ‘em out kind of game you want to see when the North Carolina Tar Heels and Duke Blue Devils take to the court.
With head coach Sylvia Hatchell being honored on her home floor at Carmichael Arena on Sunday for reaching the 1000-career win mark, the Tar Heels (14-6, 4-3) topped off a great day for her with a thrilling 92-86 overtime win over the 15th-ranked Blue Devils (15-5, 4-3).
Led by a career-high 36 points from guard Paris Kea, the Tar Heels dropped 13 three-pointers that pulled them close and provided the fuel to overwhelm the Blue Devils down the stretch in regulation and through the extra period.
“I just love this,” Hatchell said.
“I mean, who wouldn’t love today. Watching these kids do this and have success and celebrate, that’s what keeps you young. That’s so much fun.”
Although the final result put smiles on the Tar Heels’ faces, their struggle early on showed concern as Haley Gorecki and Lexie Brown helped put Duke ahead 39-20 late in the first half.
Gorecki eventually finished with a career-high 29 points to lead the Blue Devils, while Brown supported with 19 points along with Erin Mathias and Rebecca Greenwell who added 13 and 10 points, respectively.
Even in spotting Duke a 19-point margin, Kea’s five three-pointers, that included the game-tying one, was matched by bench reserve Leah Church’s five, and Jamie Cherry’s three.
Cherry finished with 22 points and 13 assists, while Church posted a career-high 19 points.
“I’m just really proud of these kids, the whole team,” Hatchell continued.
“It was a great game. Duke is Duke – they’re always good shooters, (and) big. Just a really, really good team. We started out and we couldn’t throw it in the ocean. Then we settled down and did some good things.”
For the game, the Blue Devils shot 53 percent from the floor, and 42 percent from three-point range, and outrebounded the Tar Heels 41-27.
However, a season-high 26 turnovers provided ample opportunities for the Tar Heels to hold on and peck away at their deficit until they pulled even in the dying seconds of regulation time.
The Tar Heels shot 45 percent for the game and went 4-of-5 from behind the arc in overtime – 5-of-6 from the floor – as they outscored Duke 20-14 in the extra period.
The Blue Devils finished 15-of-23 from the free-throw line, a lack of finish that included five missed attempts in the fourth quarter that might have secured the win otherwise.
“Congratulations to North Carolina,” Blue Devils head coach Joanne P. McCallie said.
“They did a great job of finishing down the stretch. They had a super overtime. They found a way with their go-to players. Paris Kea was fantastic. I can’t remember the last time anyone scored 36 against us, I’ll have to look that up. 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. There were some good things to look at for us, but obviously very disappointing from our end and again, they finished, and they finished strong.”
The Blue Devils led 41-33 led with 14 points coming from Brown and 12 from Gorecki.
Kea had 12 while Church stood with seven, and Cherry and Taylor Koenen added six apiece.
Even while Gorecki was 7-of-15 beyond the arc and single-handedly helped push Duke ahead, leading 39-20 with 3:35 to play in the first half, a 13-2 run allowed North Carolina to pull within single digits at the break.
North Carolina carried its scoring momentum forward into the early minutes of the second half.
“Leah went in there and made some big threes for us,” Hatchell said.
“Paris started doing the Paris thing.”
Church and Kea helped to extend the Tar Heels’ run into the third quarter with seven more points that cut the Blue Devils lead to 41-40.
With both teams trading baskets, Duke managed to carry a slim 55-54 advantage into the final quarter.
A three-pointer from Kea with 7:27 remaining then gave North Carolina its first lead of the game at 57-56.
“We’ll you’ve really got to keep her in front of you and work hard to do that,” McCallie said of Kea.
“She’s a very good player so you’ve got to give her credit for ball faking and getting in there. I think, to some degree, we guarded her well at certain points, but the three-balls. We weren’t in her face. We didn’t make her put the ball on the floor.”
However, as hot as UNC was from the perimeter in outplaying the Duke zone, a dormant period in point production allowed Duke to pull back ahead by nine, 66-57.
Gorecki scored two 3s as part of a 10-0 run over that four-minute span.
Cherry reignited the Tar Heels offense when she picked up a foul on a three-point attempt and connected on two and made it a four-point game, 71-67, with 27 seconds left.
Major turnovers continued to plague Duke and allowed North Carolina to eventually complete the comeback.
A turnover on a Duke inbounds resulted in a foul.
Kea subsequently pulled up for a quick jumper with 16 seconds remaining in regulation.
Greenwell was fouled with nine seconds left, but only converted on one free throw that made it a three-point difference, 72-69, in Duke’s favor.
On UNC’s final possession with four seconds remaining, Kea got the inbounds pass and dropped the game-tying 3-pointer and extended the contest into overtime.
The Tar Heels never looked back from that point on.
“I know the past two games my shot wasn’t the best,” Kea said.
“I know I was like 1-of-7 from three one game, so I was in the gym shooting. Got my energy back, my strength back, my confidence back. I knew that this game I had to help my teammates a little more, and thank god it went in.”
Peter Koutroumpis, 401-323-8960, @pksport