The official stats show Clemson’s Keyrra Gillespie had eight assists Friday night against North Carolina.
To UNC’s Italee Lucas, she had nine.
Five minutes into the second half, Gillespie leapt out of bounds to save a loose ball under the UNC basket but threw it into the hands of the junior guard, who scored the easy layup. Lucas pointed to Gillespie, thanking the passer for the assist.
“Yeah, that was a nice assist,” Lucas said. “That was a pass I really appreciated. She got the point, too.”
Lucas should have pointed her finger to teammate Cetera DeGraffenreid.
DeGraffenreid, who racked up a team-high six assists on the night, dished three crucial passes to Lucas in the final four minutes of the game to clinch the win.
North Carolina held a one-point lead with six minutes remaining in the game against a team on a six-game losing skid. Lucas and DeGraffenreid took over at that point, accounting for seven of UNC’s next eight scores en route to a decisive 19-2 run.
After making two free throws, DeGraffenreid went coast-to-coast on the Tar Heels’ next possession. She then found Lucas two consecutive times for scores, one on a wide-open three and the other a no-look pass for an easy layup.
“Whenever it got really tight in there, these two took over, which we needed them to do,” UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “We actually met and talked today about them being the leaders of this team.”
DeGraffenreid, who is tied for first in the ACC in assists per game, knocked Clemson out when she drove down the lane and drew the wing defender toward the paint. That left Lucas clear to receive the chest pass and drain a three and her game-high 20th point.
Her performance brought up memories of last season for Clemson coach Cristy McKinney.
“We did a great job for about 35 minutes last year at our place on DeGraffenreid, not letting her get to that right side and shoot layups,” McKinney said. “And right down the stretch she got there, and Lucas hits two threes.”
Lucas didn’t log any assists Friday night, but she did contribute to a few scores for DeGraffenreid. In the first half, Lucas missed a free throw, but DeGraffenreid ran from the three-point line knowing exactly where the ball would be and scored an uncontested two points. She would later force a Clemson turnover in the second half that led to a fast break layup for DeGraffenreid.
“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.”
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