With her team down 56-49 and in danger of letting No. 7 Florida State pull away, the sophomore guard for the No. 17 North Carolina women’s basketball team lunged over the baseline, hoping to knock the ball back to a teammate.
When Gray threw the ball back into play, it careened off of the bottom of the backboard and into the hands of junior N’Dea Bryant.
As Bryant’s put-back went long, Gray re-established herself, leapt for the rebound and went back up. She made the layup while getting fouled and cut the deficit to four with a foul shot, one of her 22 points.
It was weird. It was different. And it was the epitome of UNC’s 71-63 win.
“We got fortunate there at the end and some things went our way,” Coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “We missed some shots and we missed some fast break layups ... but Hey, we still won.”
Things started differently for the Tar Heels, as Jamie Cherry and Bryant filled in for Latifah Coleman and Danielle Butts in the starting lineup. Hatchell said the changes were due to nagging injuries for Coleman and strong play from Bryant.
As the first half wore on, things did not go as planned for the Tar Heels. With its normal producers struggling, the team turned to an unlikely hero in Hillary Summers, whose knack for running the floor kept UNC in shouting distance. Summers had eight of her career-high nine points in the first half, and gave the Tar Heels the spark they needed to stay in the game.
“Coach Hatchell had been on us all week about competing, so that was mainly what I was thinking about,” Summers said. “Just do everything I can to compete, so I guess it just worked out.”
The second half featured more of the same in terms of excitement and calamity, maybe at no greater point with 13:28 remaining in the game.
After Coleman missed a free throw, Butts raced to grab the loose ball and collided with FSU’s Shakena Richardson before falling to the floor. The referee immediately called a foul on Butts, and this sent Hatchell into a fit.
As she ripped off her jacket and started towards the official, an assistant coach reached out to hold her back before she could receive a technical.
“I’m a mama bear, you know,” said Hatchell after the game. “You hurt one of my cubs and you’re wrong, then mama bear gets upset.”
The officials conversed shortly after and decided to reverse the call, but a fire had already been lit under Hatchell, and that heat rubbed off on the team down the stretch.
After that moment, the Tar Heels didn’t look back, and behind an inspired team rebounding effort and an equal performance from Gray, UNC was able to overcome all the mayhem and claim their second win over a top-10 team on the year.