GREENSBORO, N.C. – The sixth-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels earned a hard-fought 73-70 win over the third-seeded Maryland Terrapins in their quarter-final meeting in the 2014 ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament at Greensboro Coliseum on Friday.
Guards Diamond DeShields (22 points, 3 assists) and Allisha Gray (17 points, 10 rebounds) were the one-two combo that allowed North Carolina to deny the Terrapins the opportunity to advance.
ACC Rookie of the Year DeShields led the offense and finished 9 for 20 from the field, including two three-pointers from the perimeter.
Gray was cleared to play after not playing in the latter half of the Tar Heels’ second-round victory over Wake Forest on Thursday.
After missing her first four shot attempts against the Terrapins, Gray finished with a 50-percent performance from the field (6-12) that also included two successful conversions from beyond the arc.
The Terps were led by ACC Player of the Year Alyssa Thomas who finished with her ACC-leading 24th double-double of the season (24 points, 11 rebounds), and worked to keep her team in the game until the final horn sounded.
“My thoughts were just to stay strong,” DeShields said of defending Thomas.
“Alyssa, she’s an extremely powerful player. For me that was a challenge and that was one of the hardest challenges I think I faced all season. I commend her on that and all the hard work she’s put in this season. She’s a great player.”
The Tar Heels led 37-26 at halftime, but missed their final 10 shot attempts in the game and struggled to survive a five-minute-plus scoring drought.
Fortunately for North Carolina, its ability to hold Maryland to a three-point shooting percentage of less than one percent (1-12), the third-lowest in Tournament history, made the difference.
While the Terps outrebounded the Tar Heels, 43-36, the physical play of forwards Xylina McDaniel (10 points, 4 rebounds) and Stephanie Mavunga (9 points, 6 rebounds) in the paint allowed the Tar Heels to successfully fight off Maryland’s late surge.
”This game, obviously, I felt was impacted in the first half in terms of how Carolina came at us really aggressive,” Maryland head coach Brenda Freese said.
“We were back on our heels and you spot a great team like Carolina 11 points, you’re fighting the entire second half to come back.”
With North Carolina leading by as many as 14 points, Thomas helped Maryland chip away at the lead as the Tar Heels’ shooting hands went cold during the final half.
Finishing with a pull-up jumper, Thomas’ shot brought the Terps to within one point, trailing 71-70, with 1:34 to play.
Both teams traded missed shot attempts and possessions, and subsequently called timeouts during the final minute of play to prolong the excitement of the game to the delight of the 6,949 spectators in attendance.
After Thomas mishandled the ball on the dribble, North Carolina got its hands on it, and the direction arrow pointed in its favor with 17.8 seconds to play.
From that point, it became a free throw contest and Brittany Rountree dropped both attempts, her lone points of the game, to place the margin of difference at three points.
With 10 seconds remaining, Thomas had the opportunity to be the difference-maker, but she missed the final three-point attempt to tie the game.
“Just take it down, transition we were getting back in the game,” Thomas said of her team’s final offensive push.
“We definitely had the opportunities, but we just didn’t come through.”
On the ensuing rebound, Maryland’s Brionna Jones (8 points, 9 rebounds) was fouled and had two shots to get closer with 2.5 seconds remaining.
However, she missed the first and purposely missed the second shot which subsequently ended up in Tar Heels guard Danielle Butts’ (4 points, 7 rebounds) hands to secure the victory.
With the win, North Carolina advanced to the semi-final round of the Tournament for the 28th time in the 37-year history of the event to face Triangle-area rival and defending Tournament champion, the Duke Blue Devils, on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.