When N.C. State forward Bonae Holston arrived at Chapel Hill, she brought one memory from the rivals’ last meeting.
“When they won at our house, they stayed on the court and sang,” Holston said. “We didn’t like that.”
As North Carolina junior guard Cetera DeGraffenreid left the court, she took one glance back at the scoreboard indicating a 74-63 loss.
Despite her 22-point performance, an all-too-familiar scene unfolded at midcourt.
The Wolfpack celebration hailed UNC’s sixth loss in seven games as North Carolina (17-9, 5-7 ACC) failed to mount momentum after the win against Wake Forest Thursday.
And despite a dramatic size advantage, North Carolina’s play was plagued with defensive miscues and offensive struggles around the rim.
“It’s all about effort,” DeGraffenreid said. “We know we should have won the game tonight.”
The Tar Heels shot 35.1 percent from the field on the game, missing opportunities to build upon an eight-point lead in the second half and stave off a N.C. State rally.
While North Carolina had 19 more shot attempts than the Wolfpack, the field goal percentage was comparable with exception to a glaring N.C. State advantage in three-point percentage.
North Carolina shot just 2-of-17 from beyond the perimeter to N.C. State’s 9-of-20.
“Two things we’ve been trying to focus on are defense and rebounding,” UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “And we didn’t do a very good job on either one of those tonight.
“We gotta keep working. We’ve gotta get in the gym and shoot.”
With the loss, UNC dropped to eighth place in the ACC standings.
Early on the game, it appeared that North Carolina had seized momentum. After trailing by as many as eight points early on, North Carolina rallied to a one-point deficit going into halftime.
The circumstance was a familiar one — one that echoed a one-point halftime deficit against N.C. State earlier this season.
And with 16 minutes remaining in the second half, North Carolina led by seven points after a furious 8-0 run staged by the Tar Heels.
DeGraffenreid pitched in two buckets during that stretch and led all scorers with 22 points by the game’s end.
But the Tar Heels yielded the team’s lead for good after a 15-0 run by the Wolfpack just four minutes later.
Two consecutive scoring possessions by Holston invited an onslaught of offensive production from the Wolfpack.
Freshman Marissa Kastanek began the attack with a three-pointer to bring N.C. State within five points. Emili Tasler added two more unanswered three-pointers to cap the run and claim the lead.
“We were visibility frustrated,” N.C. State coach Kellie Harper said of her team’s first-half performance. “The kids responded, and the kids changed their body language.”
With it, they changed the course of the game.
Guards DeGraffenreid and Italee Lucas attempted to initiate a late-game rally reminiscent of Lucas’ game-winning performance in Raleigh earlier this season.
After shooting just 2-of-13 in the first half, Lucas finished with 15 points — nine of which came in the second half.
With 4:59 remaining, forward Cierra Robertson-Warren came up with a screen, and DeGraffenreid breezed by to deliver a layup and bring Tar Heels within four points.
Lucas scored on the next two UNC possessions to bring the Tar Heels within two points at 59-61 with 3:20 remaining.
But N.C. State refused to concede its lead and scored on the next three possessions to effectively put the game away.
“We’re just going to keep working,” Hatchell said.
“Until we get over the hump, we’re not going to back off. We’re going to intensify even more.”
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