Sophomore Nikita Bell fell backward to a seated position a few feet from the North Carolina bench after an enthusiastic chest bump from teammate Chrystal Baptist, as both benches and 10,180 onlookers came to their feet. Seconds later, the power forward stood up and began pantomiming her foul shot.
The scoreboard read 61-61.
Only moments before, a Leah Metcalf pass to Bell on the baseline sparked several events -- a shot was fired, a whistle signifying a foul was blown and the game-ending buzzer sounded.
To the No. 8 Tar Heels, the way the original sequence was called translated into two opportunities to beat top-ranked Duke.
The officials decided otherwise.
And after reviewing the tape, the referees determined that the whistle was blown after the buzzer, sending the top two ACC teams into overtime.
The reversed call toyed with the Tar Heels' momentum and was the necessary catalyst for the Blue Devils, who defeated the Tar Heels 78-67 in overtime before a sold-out crowd at Carmichael Auditorium on Monday afternoon.
Despite the loss, UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell said the Tar Heels were successful in their defensive goals.
"When you hold
Of course Hatchell recognized that while these broader concepts did come together for the Tar Heels, better shooting and rebounding from her bench could have made the difference. UNC particularly struggled at the free throw line, making just 4 of 13 in the game, while Duke made good on 13 of 23 attempts.
"If we just make some of our foul shots," Hatchell said. "A little bit better foul shooting, and we'd be celebrating right now."
It was the little things like this that piled up, jeopardizing UNC's seven-point second-half lead.
For possibly the first time this year, UNC (15-2, 5-1 in the ACC) didn't live up to its ability to out-rebound its opponent, matching Duke with 54 boards.
"We had a lot of mental breakdowns, especially in overtime, that we can correct," Bell said. "I don't know if they outplayed us or not, but I think we did a pretty good job on them."
The Tar Heels enjoyed success in the first half, outshooting the Blue Devils (17-0, 5-0) in every category by about 10 percent.
Beard also made more appearances at the foul line during the second half. She knocked down a pair of critical free-throws with 45.5 seconds left in regulation to extend Duke's lead to three points. Seconds later, Metcalf, who led UNC with 18 points, would extinguish Duke's lead with a shot-clock beating 3-pointer.
But initially, neither Beard nor forward Iciss Tillis made a substantial contribution to the Blue Devils' effort.
"Our bench play was a great part of it," said Duke coach Gail Goestenkors. "That's the mark of a great team. Your best players aren't always going to have best halves or great games, so you have to have other players step forward."
Both teams were forced to rely on additional help when their leading scorers fell short. Duke's bench contributed 20 points, while UNC had comparable output with 24 points.
The win marks Duke's second overtime victory this season, but it's not the first close encounter for the Blue Devils, who have narrowly escaped defeat in their last four ACC matchups.
"We're very comfortable, and we're very confident because we've been in those situations before," Goestenkors said.
But the Tar Heels didn't make it easy for the Blue Devils, alternating their defense at several points during the second half to jostle Duke's approach.
Hatchell doesn't think the loss will affect UNC's potential to be a Final Four contender, and like her team, she is anxious for Feb. 20 -- round two.
"They're having all their luck early in the season," she said. "Sooner or later it's going to run out. ... It's only Jan. 20."
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