Even with Italee Lucas scoring North Carolina’s first eight points, the UNC coaching staff wanted more.
In fact, after Lucas passed up a wide-open three-point opportunity before the game’s first timeout, head coach Sylvia Hatchell and assistant Andrew Calder let Lucas know their feelings.
As the sweet-stroking junior walked toward the bench, both coaches popped up furiously and yelled for her to shoot next time. And although she made amends — at least attempting from distance seven more times — the results weren’t pretty.
Neither were the No. 4 Tar Heels, as UNC etched out a sloppy win against St. John’s on Sunday, 83-73.
“I thought we had a lot of good looks early,” Hatchell said. “We got layups, transition, all that stuff. And we were missing them. If we could’ve made those and our foul shots, we could’ve had a big lead. We didn’t.”
With Lucas providing the team’s only early offense, UNC didn’t begin to stretch its lead until late in the first half.
Sure, the usual suspects of Lucas and point guard Cetera DeGraffenreid were filling up the team’s point total, earning 15 and eight first-half points, respectively.
But not much else was going right.
North Carolina (6-1) struggled with turnovers early, giving the ball away nine times in the first half. St. John’s suffered its own problems with 16 giveaways in the first half.
UNC’s transition defense left much to be desired. The Tar Heels would score a layup just to give one away to St. John’s.
At close to the 10-minute mark in the first half, DeGraffenreid weaved into the lane for a nifty score.
But right after, the Red Storm (7-1) emphatically responded with a layup on their next possession.
Still, Hatchell didn’t seem bothered.
“Nah, we like that,” Hatchell said. “They may get a layup, but we’re going to get one on the other end, too.”
On offense, the Tar Heels found themselves hard-pressed to find any rhythm. With the Smith Center’s shot clock malfunctioning throughout the first and second halves, UNC can be somewhat forgiven, but the shooting totals suffered.
North Carolina shot just 18.8 percent from beyond the arc and 40.7 from the field. Even the team’s free throw shooting suffered. UNC made only 53.8 percent of its attempts from the charity stripe.
As a result, the Tar Heels lost a 12-point halftime lead and found themselves tied with SJU, 65-65, with just 7:37 remaining.
The game’s outcome was now dicey, and Hatchell needed her floor general to wreak havoc.
“She said a lot to me, but I don’t remember when it was 65-65,” DeGraffenreid said while laughing afterward.
No matter, the junior acted as if she was let loose.
At the 5:30 mark, she cut in between several Red Storm defenders for a contested layup. Moments later, the junior led a one-woman fast break for a layup — pushing the lead essentially out of reach, 75-67.
“They started pressing, so I knew we had an advantage if I were to go,” DeGraffenreid said. “We would have the advantage on the end. And we did.”
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