Current Date: Tue, 11 Mar 2014 13:08:35 -0400
RALEIGH — The ball kissed the glass, danced around the rim and settled into the bottom of the net. The 8,114 fans at Reynolds Coliseum, the source of a two-hour, ear-piercing din Sunday afternoon, took their cue and fell silent.
Soon a reverential murmur overtook the stands, and Diamond DeShields, the cause of this newfound tranquility, walked to half-court and gazed serenely.
Her 38 points, a North Carolina women’s basketball record for a freshman, drew venom from the N.C. State faithful. Boos when she tore a ball from a Wolfpack’s hands after the whistle blew. Helpless pleas when she spotted up for another inevitable 3-pointer.
DeShields had little to dislike after her record-setting spree in UNC’s 89-82 win against N.C. State, hostility from the home crowd included.
For the second time in six days, DeShields waltzed into an unwelcoming arena and, along with her team, vanquished a rival. With her team losing its hold on a late-game lead, DeShields became the stopgap, rising above a pair of N.C. State defenders for the silencing score.
“At the end of the day, it’s all love to me,” said DeShields, who scored 27 points in the second half. “I want to make believers out of everybody. Anybody who doubts me, I want you after the game to respect me. ‘She played a helluva game.’
“That’s all I want, and that’s what I work for, you know? Play hard.”
DeShields almost missed her chance to proselytize disbelievers. In UNC’s opening drill during its Saturday practice, DeShields suffered an undisclosed leg injury on the first step she took.
Her first-half limped along much like the slight hitch in her gait. DeShields’s equilibrium, usually unflappable, looked off-kilter. She had 11 points on just 4-10 shooting.
N.C. State contained the reigning NCAA Player of the Week with a “diamond-on-Diamond” approach: Four Wolfpack fanned out in a diamond-shaped pattern across the court, acting as a safety net behind a rover who followed DeShields wherever she went.
The finger-in-the-dam worked for 20 minutes. And then the floods came.
“Some days you’re the windshield, and some days you’re the bug,” said N.C. State coach Wes Moore, who described DeShields as “phenomenal.
“Today, we were the bug.”
DeShields’s blitzkrieg featured a 14-point stretch in 5:25 near the second half’s midpoint. She accounted for all of UNC’s points during that time, nailing a trio of 3-pointers and adding a jumper for good measure.
When high school opponents realized that DeShields could inflict damage beyond repair, coaches would put defenders in the guard’s face. They’d crowd her, prod her, attempt to envelop her in misery.
The ‘diamond-on-Diamond’ served as the latest DeShields disarmament measure. It was up to the 6-foot-1 guard to find a solution.
“I just stay calm and don’t get frustrated,” DeShields said. “That’s the worst thing I can do to myself and to my team. When teams do that to me, it’s just kind of like, ‘All right, you gotta switch it up a little bit. Whatcha gonna do now?’
“It’s fun. It’s like a game, but it is a game.”
A game, 8,114 more people discovered, at which she excels.