The game started much the same as the one yesterday. Kea scored the first points of the game, just 31 seconds into the first quarter with a 3-pointer. A minute later, she connected from deep again, giving the Tar Heels an early six-point advantage.
Cherry scored her first points at the 6:53 mark in the opening frame, making two free throws.
Then, it was Kea again, connecting on her third 3-pointer of the contest half a minute later.
With such an encouraging start, it looked like the Tar Heels might upset the Wolfpack.
But the script quickly flipped. N.C. State went on a 15-2 run to take an 18-13 edge. Guard Kiara Leslie keyed the run for the Wolfpack. Her first points came on a layup. She was fouled by Kea on the play and converted the and-one. Two more layups from Leslie gave her team a 16-13 advantage. N.C. State guard Aislinn Konig put a stamp on the run with a jump shot.
The Tar Heels only scored three more points in the quarter, and trailed 22-16 after the first 10 minutes.
For UNC to come back, it needed both Cherry and Kea to step up. Kea did her part, adding 12 points in the second quarter, including two free throws with just four seconds left in the half.
Kea ended the first half with 21 points — her second straight game with 20 first-half points. But her teammates were unable to pick up the rest of the slack, starting with Cherry.
In her final game, the senior who has given so much to head coach Sylvia Hatchell’s program failed to hit a shot in the first half on six attempts. First-year center Janelle Bailey was the second leading scorer for UNC, contributing eight points, but the two other starters, guard Taylor Koenen and forward Jaelynn Murray failed to score in the first half.
The Tar Heels failed to bridge the gap in the third quarter. The Wolfpack outscored Cherry and her teammates 18-15, bringing N.C. State’s lead to nine.
UNC needed a big fourth quarter to keep its season alive, but that did not happen. The Tar Heels scored their fewest points of any quarter in the game (12) and were outscored by four in the 10 minutes.
Just like that, the Wolfpack had won, and in the process ended the season of their archrival.
It was Kea who carried the scoring load yet again, finishing with 27 points and hitting four 3-pointers for the second consecutive game.
But unlike yesterday’s contest, a game she said was at the top of the list of her UNC career, this one ended in heartbreak.
It was the last time she would ever play with her backcourt mate.
Cherry did not have the game she would have liked in her finale. Not only was her team eliminated, but she shot a dismal 3-for-15 and finished with 15 points.
But that’s not how she will be remembered.
She will be remembered as the one that stayed — a figure of stability in a time of chaos.
And that is perhaps more important than any stat line could be.
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