Coach Sylvia Hatchell began to list off a series of outstanding records held by her team.
Fifty-one wins out of the last 52 games played in Chapel Hill. Nineteen straight conference wins at home.
She had one pointed reason.
She wanted to remind her players those records were no more after an 83-73 loss to No. 15 Florida State (19-4, 5-2 ACC).
“We’ll see what that means to our players,” Hatchell said. “I’m not sure how much it means to them.”
Junior Italee Lucas and sophomore Chay Shegog hung their heads, answering in barely audible tones.
Together, the pair combined for 36 points to ignite a furious second-half rally. But it failed to overcome a woeful first-half performance that had allowed Florida State’s lead to balloon to 19, and eventually left No. 9 North Carolina (16-4, 4-2) trailing 36-24 at halftime.
With the loss, North Carolina conceded its second-place standing in the ACC where a logjam of teams stand tied with four wins apiece.
“We weren’t ready when we started,” Hatchell said. “I don’t know what it was. I thought we had them ready to play.”
Coming into the contest, UNC boasted the top-ranked scoring and rebounding team in the ACC.
In the first half, those trends would never have been apparent.
North Carolina got off to an uncharacteristically slow start, shooting just 26 percent from the field in the first half.
The Seminoles quickly jumped on the Tar Heels, proving they could effectively handle UNC in the paint — on both ends of the court.
By game’s end, the Tar Heels were out-rebounded 47-32, their largest deficit this season.
When out-rebounded, UNC has only won three games this season.
“We used to intimidate people,” Hatchell said. “We don’t go after people anymore. We’re too soft.”
Offensively, North Carolina also struggled to establish post presence, settling for just eight points in the paint in the first half, compared to its 32 in the second.
UNC recovered in the final half of the game, with Lucas staging numerous fast breaks and feeding Shegog in the post.
Shegog scored all 16 of her points in the second half, while Lucas chipped in 14 of her 20 points after intermission.
With 3:25 remaining, Lucas went coast to coast and delivered an impressive one-handed layup to give the Tar Heels a fighting chance.
Leading 66-65, Florida State called a timeout.
But while UNC proved it might reclaim momentum, it could not reclaim the lead.
During the next two minutes, the Seminoles killed North Carolina’s rally with an 8-0 run of their own.
Near the end of that run, Lucas went up with a 3-pointer to try to stave off FSU’s momentum.
But as it was decisively blocked by Florida State’s Jacinta Monroe, the play seemed to encapsulate the problem that had plagued the Tar Heels in the first place.
A lack of physicality.
“The fact that we came back was really, really good so you have to give us credit for that,” Hatchell said. “But we never should have been in that situation to begin with.”
Shegog stared at the table, as she was asked exactly what this loss meant to her and her teammates.
Whether her coach’s assessment was accurate. Whether the loss would rally the team.
“I don’t know,” Shegog said quietly. “I hope so.”
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