DURHAM — North Carolina entered Cameron Indoor Stadium in the midst of a fall. Seven straight losses to Duke, five straight losses in Cameron Indoor Stadium, and three straight losses this season to unranked teams.
Is there a better time to end a losing streak?
In a 89-78 upset victory against No. 3 Duke, the Tar Heels showed they’ve had enough. They decided they were done falling.
The No. 17 Tar Heels (18-6, 6-4 ACC) were ranked as high as sixth in the country before they began to fall.
The last three losses have been tough to explain. Syracuse, Miami, Georgia Tech. All Tar Heel losses, all by five points or fewer.
“I’m tired of losing,” said freshman Diamond DeShields. “We’re tired of losing.”
And the best thing to do when you’re tired of losing? Win.
So it didn’t matter who they were playing. It didn’t matter where they were playing.
This Tar Heel team knew they were going to win.
UNC associate head coach Andrew Calder saw it in his team, the determination and mental toughness they had been lacking in the past three games.
“In the end the players did it.” Calder said. “They got together and said, ‘You know what? We’re gonna make a statement. And we’re gonna make that statement tonight.’”
And when the Tar Heels needed statement plays, they knew exactly where to go.
Freshmen DeShields and Allisha Gray repeatedly made big shots to hold off the Blue Devils. Early in the second half, DeShields, who finished with a career-high 30 points, hit a jump shot to end an 11-0 Duke run that narrowed the UNC lead to 48-47.
Gray, who ended the game with 24 points and 10 rebounds of her own, followed it up with a basket and the foul.
The ball spun almost perfectly balanced on the rim for a moment, needing just that small hint of luck to fall in.
In the last three games, that’s the kind of shot that would’ve rimmed out and fallen harshly to the floor.
Instead, it gently dropped through the hoop, and the sound of the ball bouncing on the floor was an afterthought to Gray, who was probably too busy being mobbed by her teammates to notice.
Just minutes later, the duo would hold off another Duke run.
With the UNC lead at 63-61 and the Blue Devils on a 10-2 run, DeShields again hit a big shot. This time it was a 3-pointer from the corner.
Not to be outdone, Gray came down the court on the next possession and hit another basket after being fouled, then draining the free throw to extend the lead back to eight. Duke never got closer than six the rest of the way.
DeShields said that the losses were the reason why North Carolina was able to play so well against their rival.
“I’m thankful for those losses at this point,” DeShields said.
“Because they really helped us, and I’m not sure we would’ve played as well as we did tonight if we would’ve won those ball games.”
The Tar Heels have derived their toughness from a mentality that coach Sylvia Hatchell has repeatedly instilled in them this season: When they’re on the court, it’s just 94 feet, a 10-foot rim, and glass walls around the court, so nobody can touch them.
On Monday night, UNC proved that Cameron Indoor is just another court.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.