Tar Heels edge Blue Devils 64-60

Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The 14th-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels held on for a 64-60 win over the seventh-ranked Duke Blue Devils as both teams ended their Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) regular season at Carmichael Arena on Sunday.

North Carolina guard Diamond DeShields led her team with 18 points to go along with four rebounds and four assists while a double-double performance from Stephanie Mavunga (12 points, 11 rebounds, 5 blocks) and a strong effort early in the second half from Allisha Gray (12 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists) helped the Tar Heels claim a regular season sweep of the Blue Devils for the first time since 2007-2008.

Playing on their home court, the Tar Heels (22-8, 10-6) looked to go undefeated against the Blue Devils (25-5, 12-4) following an 89-78 win at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Feb. 10, but the Blue Devils didn’t make that an easy feat to accomplish.

Duke came out fast and put up points quickly which caught the Tar Heels off guard as Tricia Liston led the charge with 19 points and started the game with a three-pointer just 19 seconds in.

After undergoing a CT on her back during the week and not practicing for two days before the game, the Duke senior guard relied on her mental focus and support of her teammates to put together a gutsy performance in which she played 38 minutes.

“A the start we came out pretty strong I think,” Liston said.

“We were getting stops on defense, so I think that it was a mental focus that I tried to put it in the back of my head and just go out there and play.”

Along with fellow starters Elizabeth Williams (12 points, 9 rebounds, 5 blocks) and Haley Peters (4 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists), Liston helped to put the Blue Devils ahead 13-3 during the opening five minutes of play.

After struggling from the floor early, DeShields and Mavunga worked to involve Xylina McDaniel (8 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists) and Jessica Washington (7 points, 4 rebound) into the offense to eventually gain the lead, 24-22, with back-to-back baskets from McDaniel at the 6:13 mark.

“I’m a scorer – I’m very capable of scoring – but tonight my shot wasn’t fallin’,” DeShields said.

“There’s other things that I’m good at doin’ – there’s other things that Diamond can do. So, I just went out there and basically tried to showcase my talent and my basketball IQ as a whole, besides as a scorer. I can play defense. I can lock down…J just made an effort to be better at different things this game and because that’s just what I needed to do. My shots weren’t fallin’ so I had to contribute elsewhere.”

Finishing the opening half on a 6-0 run and leading 36-31, the Tar Heels continued to extend their scoring streak early in the second half.

DeShields found Gray open on two of three successive possessions that resulted in three-point conversions that became part of an additional 14-0 run that put North Carolina ahead 50-31 with 16:11 to play.

“We definitely had a lapse to start the second half in our defensive focus,” Peters said.

“I think part of it is probably locating her (Gray) and talking – our communication has to be better. It was really just a mental lapse I think. They’re very good, but we kind of gave it away there.”

While the Blue Devils endured through a near six-minute scoring drought, the Tar Heels topped it by going scoreless for 10 minutes and allowed Duke to climb back into the game.

Ka’lia Johnson (12 points, 4 rebounds) and Oderah Chidom (8 points, 4 rebounds) contributed valuable bench points in tandem with Liston and Williams to score 16 unmatched points.

While the Tar Heels continuously turned the ball over and missed shots, they were able to hold on to a slim 50-47 lead with 7:57 to play.

“We were determined and we understood that if our shots weren’t going, that we had to get second-chance opportunities,” North Carolina associate head coach Andrew Calder said.

“We knew for more possessions in the game, we had to limit them to getting extra possessions in the game, so we made more emphasis of boxing out and more emphasis for us of in attacking the glass.”

The strategy worked for the Tar Heels as they outrebounded the Blue Devils by a narrow margin, but effectively so to hold them off.

Luckily for North Carolina, Duke struggled from the free throw line going down the stretch and finished the half dropping only 9 of 15 shots afforded to them.

While the Blue Devils won the second half 29-28, it wasn’t enough to reclaim the lead and win the game.

“It was a good game and hard fought,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said.

“I think we’ve got some great lessons learned for us as we grow in this season…It was a great game for us, but we’re disappointed that we didn’t finish the game as well as we would like.”