At halftime during North Carolina’s 62-58 win against Duquesne in the second round of the preseason Women’s National Invitation Tournament, the Tar Heels trailed 35-26. They had shot just 39 percent from the field.
That percentage, it seemed, needed to improve for UNC to have a chance to win.
But UNC somehow rode out an even worse 8-for-32 shooting performance in the second half and pulled out the four-point win. After trailing by as many as 14, UNC took a 55-53 lead with five minutes to play and held on.
The Tar Heels didn’t make a 3-point shot all game.
“The fact that we can win and not shoot any better than that, I’m just happy for the win,” coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “If we can start making shots, we’ll win by 20 or 25.”
The Tar Heels couldn’t find their rhythm against a zone defense that consistently dispossessed UNC players of the ball when they drove inside.
“They were playing a matchup zone, and the spots that we were usually looking for in the match-up zone weren’t there,” said senior forward Krista Gross, who finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
The Dukes also shot well in the first half, making five of 10 shots from behind the arc.
Freshman Xylina McDaniel struggled and finished the first half with seven turnovers and three fouls. She would foul out in the second half with 4:43 to play.
But UNC made some key adjustments to change the complexion of the game.
“We picked it up on defense,” said senior guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt. “We ended up playing more man-to-man instead of zone because they were shooting the ball.”
Ruffin-Pratt also ignited the UNC offense out of the locker room with 11 straight points.
While UNC made just one field goal in the final 12 minutes of play, the Tar Heels shot 20-for-31 from the charity stripe in the second half alone.
“We just took it to them,” Gross said. “There were certain situations where we knew certain people were getting in foul trouble and we went at them.”
Hatchell said she was more impressed with her team’s grit than she was disappointed in its lack of finesse.
“We’ll be fine if we can play defense like this,” she said. “Scoring is going to go up and down, but as long as we can have our defense consistent, that’s good.”
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