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Friday March 24th

UNC women hold off Clemson with second-half run

UNC point guard Cetera DeGraffenreid drives toward the basket in UNC’s 79-61 win against Clemson on Friday. DTH/BJ Dworak
Buy Photos UNC point guard Cetera DeGraffenreid drives toward the basket in UNC’s 79-61 win against Clemson on Friday. DTH/BJ Dworak

It took the North Carolina women’s basketball team seven minutes to turn a barnburner into a blowout Friday night.

Down by a point with 7:08 left in the second half, North Carolina rattled off a 23-4 run to defeat Clemson 79-61.

The key to the run was defense. The Tigers’ offense ground to a halt amidst a sea of turnovers and missed shots, which UNC was able to convert into points on the other end.

“We kept switching it up,” UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “We did a little bit of zone, then we showed zone and went man, and then we trapped on the wing.

“We threw a bunch of stuff out there down the stretch and I think all of (the players) did a better job of not letting them drive down to the paint.”

Bolstered by two clutch threes from Italee Lucas and a usual late-game surge from Cetera DeGraffenreid, the Tar Heels (15-3, 3-1) pulled away. DeGraffenreid scored eight of her 12 points down the stretch.

Lucas herself scored a game-high 20 to pace UNC off the bench.

“We need to embrace the fact that we do need to step up in close games,” Lucas said. “We need to communicate the entire game, and also with the team.”

The UNC run came in response to a big Clemson (9-11, 0-4) streak that erased a 10-point North Carolina advantage and staked the Tigers to a one point lead. From there, the wheels came off for Clemson.

“They made a great push, but I really felt like we lost a little bit of composure,” Clemson coach Cristy McKinney said. “We made a couple of bad decisions, a couple of quick shots and turnovers, and they really exploited them.”

McKinney’s squad effectively neutralized both of North Carolina’s calling cards ­­—­ fast breaks and rebounding — and that’s why they were in a position to win with seven minutes remaining. The Tar Heels only scored 14 fast break points, and grabbed a single rebound more than the Tigers.

“We were focused. I don’t think we lost intensity, just it’s composure that keeps you staying with your offense, staying with what’s been successful and not trying to get out of that,” McKinney said. “And I felt like we tried to get out of that near the end.”

Clemson just could not make enough shots to keep up with the Tar Heels. For the game, Clemson shot 39 percent from the field, and 31 percent from the free throw line.

At the other end, UNC had no trouble, shooting 57 percent in the second half and 53 percent for the game.

That is a drastic turnaround from the previous three games — losses to Virginia Tech and Connecticut and a win against Maryland — in which the team shot 68-for-216, or 31 percent from the field.

The team’s halfcourt offense was more fluid than it had been in three games, and that manifested itself in the highest number of assists, 13, since the January 6 game against Georgia Tech.

“(Chay Shegog) was looking for the cutter — and we did hit that a couple times,” Hatchell said.

“We’ve got to develop our offense from the inside-out when we don’t have a fast break, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

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