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The Daily Tar Heel

Quick start but slow finish for Tar Heels

UNC vs. Syracuse
1st half
UNC vs. Syracuse 1st half

Carmichael Arena served as the backdrop for a tale of two teams Thursday night.

The first featured a show of fiery athleticism, while the second displayed a lackadaisical frustration. The only similarity was that both of these teams wore Carolina blue.

The No. 6 North Carolina women’s basketball team suffered a devastating 78-73 loss to Syracuse in the game’s final minutes, after jumping out to an 18-point lead in the first half.

“We’ve been winning games,” said freshman guard Diamond DeShields. “And usually if it’s in the second half we’ve been pulling away. This is the first time we’ve ever had to battle like that.”

Although the game began neck-in-neck, the Tar Heels quickly pulled away, ignited by freshman center Stephanie Mavunga’s aggressive hustle under the basket.

Despite the swarm of Orange hands, Mavunga lobbed shot after shot from the paint, using her physicality to find the seam and draw fouls.

“(Coach) always pushes us around, trying to make us better players under the basket,” Mavunga said. “He’s always like, ‘Shot blocker behind you, what do you do? Shot blocker to the side, what do you do?’”

About midway through the first half, Danielle Butts managed a steal and charged down the length of the court, throwing up a diving shot to give the Tar Heels a 10-point lead.

UNC continued to build on this momentum, ratcheting up its 18-point lead with four minutes left.

Seemingly every pass was connecting and every shot was sinking for UNC, who managed to shoot 54.8 percent in the first half.

Mavunga sealed the half with a definitive block as time ran out, and UNC jogged off the court with a 14-point lead.

Although Syracuse boasts the best turnover margin in the ACC, the Tar Heels handled their full-court press with maturity. But shortly after the second half began, this composure crumbled.

“We executed outstanding in the first half,” said associate head coach Andrew Calder. “We weren’t able to carry that to the second half. We got a little out of rhythm and once they picked off a couple of them we kinda panicked.”

The Orange picked up its pressure, forcing UNC to throw off-kilter lobs into thin air. Gone was the delicate first-half passing, replaced by 18 second-half Tar Heel turnovers. Meanwhile, Syracuse shot 60 percent from the 3-point line and managed to tie the game with 4:44 left.

“I was kinda confused because I had to leave the court for a little bit,” said DeShields. “I came back out, and we were only up by like five. I was still on the first half part of what we did, and I was still energized. I went out there, and it was like what happened?”

UNC’s luck dwindled with just minutes left on the clock, as a series of fouls and a technical on Mavunga gave Syracuse the edge it needed.

Despite the athleticism of the Orange, in the end, North Carolina’s downfall was at their own expense.

“We were just telegraphing,” DeShields said. “We were looking and throwing, and we had 29 turnovers. I would say it’s part of the maturing process.”

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