CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The fourth-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels escaped an early exit from the postseason with a 60-58 win over the 13th-seeded UT Martin Skyhawks in first-round play of the 2014 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament at Carmichael Arena on Sunday.
The Tar Heels’ Diamond DeShields scored 13 of her total 15 points in the game during the second half to power a phenomenal comeback with her team trailing 50-32 with 10:51 remaining.
That was the point that the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Rookie of the Year went to work and started a 15-0 run that ballooned to 22-3 advantage when guard Brittany Rountree’s three-pointer gave North Carolina the lead 54-53 with 3:28 to play.
“I think we collectively decided that we didn’t want the season to end, especially not like that,” DeShields said.
“Especially not on our home court,” she continued.
“With time running down in the second half, we had like 10 minutes to continue our season, basically. I know I wasn’t ready to stop playing. So when the flagrant got called when I got hit in my throat, it kind of just lit a match under everybody. Then we just collectively decided that we were going to win the game.”
In entering the lane to attempt to rebound a UT Martin free throw, DeShields was clotheslined by Tiara Caldwell’s arm that caught her in the throat and resulted in her needing to take a few minutes to recover from it.
With two free throws afforded to her as a result of a subsequent flagrant foul that was assessed to Caldwell following the play, DeShields continued what turned out to be a perfect 9-for-9 performance from the line to lead her team back into the game.
“There are certain things that you definitely can control, and I feel like a free throw is one of them,” DeShields continued.
“Defense is one of them. A free throw is a free shot, there’s no defense. No foul. I just feel like if you want to get yourself going, you’ve got to be able to do it on the free throw line if that’s where your opportunities are presenting themselves. I took what they gave me tonight. It was hard for me to get the ball offensively in our sets, but I was able to draw fouls and get to the free throw line and I was able to hit the free throws.”
Xylina McDaniel was one of a handful of accomplices who aided DeShields’ efforts to take the game away from the Skyhawks, finishing with 14 points and nine rebounds, including scoring the winning basket with 53 seconds to play.
Allisha Gray (9 points, 4 rebounds) provided outside shooting support while Stephanie Mavunga (7 points, 9 rebounds) did her work in the paint to keep the Tar Heels within striking distance early in the second half until DeShields’ took over.
“We just continue to fight,” North Carolina associate head coach Andrew Calder said.
“We just tell them, ‘Fight. Play for each other.’ We continue to battle.”
The Tar Heels with face the fifth-seeded Michigan State Spartans, 91-61 winners over the Hampton Pirates, in second-round play on Tuesday at 7:10 p.m. in Carmichael.