GREENSBORO — With four players on the floor with four fouls, Maryland coach Brenda Frese did not panic.
Although North Carolina had rallied from a 10-point deficit to within four points on a timely 3-pointer from UNC junior guard Cetera DeGraffenreid with 1:20 remaining, she stayed steady.
Largely because there was one player on the floor who had proven to do the same.
Maryland sophomore Lynetta Kizer led the team with 22 points and 10 rebounds — despite playing only 22 minutes due to foul trouble.
“When you get in foul trouble, you have to play that much harder,” Kizer said. “Four of us had four fouls. We just kept playing hard. We weren’t worried about the whistle.”
And when it came down to it, the whistles never sounded. But the final horn did — and it signaled that Maryland had handed North Carolina an 83-77 loss in the first round of the ACC Tournament.
“(Kizer) put this team on her back and her energy and emotion,” Frese said. “She refused to lose.”
The Maryland team boasted a young and inexperienced team, much like its UNC opponents.
But something evaded North Carolina in the opening minutes when the Terrapins jumped out to an early lead on 10-of-14 shooting.
“Just to see the poise and confidence we played with,” Frese said. “We were definitely inspired today.”
After what UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell characterized as a lackadaisical start for the Tar Heels, a late rally showed hope that North Carolina might be able to match wills with its opponents.
But a relentless attack by Maryland’s post players — led by Kizer’s play — proved too much.
“We got so far down, we had to fight back the whole game,” Hatchell said.
And despite fighting from deficits as large as 16 points, North Carolina appeared to have hope in a late rally — but it was just that, too late.
With 3:31 remaining, Kizer capped a 10-point lead after receiving a no-look pass from teammate Diandra Tchatchouang.
When it looked as if the Terrapins’ star forward had delivered the game’s knockout punch, UNC sophomore Laura Broomfield emerged with a set of key buckets to ignite what appeared to be a comeback.
Liberated by some of the Terrapins’ adjustments made in response to foul trouble, UNC continued what Broomfield had started.
With 2:49 left on the clock, freshman Tierra Ruffin-Pratt launched a 3-pointer that ended up in the hands of Broomfield — who subsequently delivered it to the hoop.
Just 44 seconds later, another bucket by Broomfield brought the score to 73-65. On the next possession, She’la White found herself alone and drained a 3-pointer.
After a pair of Maryland free throws, DeGraffenreid received the ball at the perimeter with 1:28 remaining. She stepped back, pulled up and sunk a 3-pointer.
“When Cetera made that 3, I thought we were going to be able to pull it out,” Hatchell said.
It brought the score to 75-71 — but UNC would come no closer.
And the loss brought the Tar Heels no closer to their hopes of receiving an NCAA tournament bid.
Coming off a 64-54 win against the conference’s top team, Duke, on Sunday, North Carolina had hoped to bolster those hopes.
But DeGraffenreid had just one aim for the team.
“Trying to get that team back that played against Duke,” she said.
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