After losing the first set and falling behind 22-17 in the second set, Carlton and 2016 ACC Player of the Year Taylor Leath orchestrated a comeback, taking the set 25-23 and going on to win the next two sets.
Even though the Tar Heels won the second set, they were not pleased at break.
“We won the first set because we got 25 first but we didn’t think we earned it,” Leath said. “So a lot of us were coming out and saying we want to earn this game, we want to make positive plays and not make plays off of someone else’s errors and not win off of other errors. We were able to just capitalize a little more in that third and fourth set.”
The Tar Heels certainly won sets three and four 25-18 and 25-17, respectively.
Head coach Joe Sagula was pleased with his team’s efforts and called it a gritty win. However, even he grew concerned in the second set with his team falling behind.
“In the second set, I don’t know how we did it; I really don’t,” he said. “I had a fatalistic thought at that point and all of a sudden, it’s 23 all, and I thought, ‘I think we’re gonna win this,’ and they served the ball into the net. If they don’t serve the ball into the net, who knows what happens. That could have been a 32-30 set.”
As it turned out, the ball hit into the net, and the Tar Heels did not look back as they dominated their rival in the next two sets in front of an electrifying home crowd.
“This is my first year competing against Duke,” Carlton said. “There’s nothing like being on the court, having a packed arena cheering for you. It makes it so much easier to keep believing in yourself, fighting, having the crowd get excited about little points. It was great to have the home-court advantage tonight.”
The win raises UNC above .500 in ACC play for the first time all season, after losing just once in conference play all of last year. The Tar Heels have a long way to go to claim a second consecutive ACC Championship.
“We’re taking it game by game to be honest,” Leath said. “At the end of the day, we want to be in the NCAA Tournament and at the top of the ACC so every single win counts and every single game matters.”