If UNC was in need of a basket in the game’s final minutes, Diamond DeShields became a force capable of withstanding any pressure.
But following DeShields’ decision to transfer, it’s been unclear who would grab hold of the reins.
In No. 11 UNC’s 79-77 victory over No. 19 Oklahoma State on Wednesday night at Carmichael Arena, that question was answered — sophomores Allisha Gray and Stephanie Mavunga placed a firm grasp on that role.
After UNC marched out to a 40-29 lead at the half, OSU roared back with 5:40 remaining to take a 65-63 lead on a 3-pointer by redshirt sophomore guard Brittany Atkins.
The OSU 3-pointer prompted a timeout by Coach Sylvia Hatchell. The ball was destined to find Gray on the next play.
“She’s our go-to player,” Hatchell said. “She’s the one we want taking those shots.”
Following the inbound, Gray received the ball in front of the UNC bench, dribbled around a screen and heaved a 3-pointer.
The ball floated through the air before swishing through the net. Gray said that despite losing the lead, she and her teammates needed to stay calm.
“There was still plenty of time left in the game, and when I came around and shot that 3-pointer, I kind of knew it was going in, because I stayed in my shot,” she said.
Gray’s 3-pointer sparked an 11-4 UNC run that put the team up 74-69 with less than three minutes remaining.
But once again, Atkins brought the Cowgirls back — drilling another 3-pointer to bring OSU within two points.
UNC began continuously feeding Mavunga the ball. The strategy paid off, as Mavunga drove to the basket and converted a layup to put UNC up four.
But after Mavunga missed one of her two free throws, on the next trip down the floor she was called with a charging foul to give the Cowgirls the ball with one minute remaining.
And a 3-pointer by sophomore guard Roshunda Johnson knotted the game at 77 apiece — sending the Cowgirl bench into an uproar.
As UNC guard Latifah Coleman began to push the ball up the court following a UNC timeout, Mavunga knew the ball was coming her way.
“I knew as long as I was on the opposite side of her, she was going to pass it to me,” she said. “So it was like, ‘Oh, gosh. I’ve got to catch this ball.’ My hands were really slippery because I was kind of nervous.”
And she did. Mavunga received the pass for the game-sealing layup with 34 seconds left, as OSU was unable to knock down its final shot.
Hatchell said as time ticked down, the offense was led by Gray and Mavunga alone.
“It’s a two-man game with these guys, so that’s what we were running the last two or three minutes down the stretch,” Hatchell said. “We call it Vegas because they’re money.”
And when UNC needed Gray and Mavunga the most, they weren’t anything but.?