Virginia Tech started to press midway through the final quarter, forcing several Tar Heel turnovers as UNC started to see its lead evaporate.
North Carolina was turning the ball over and shots weren’t falling in the fourth — a dangerous combination for a team that has blown second-half leads in the past. The Tar Heels didn’t hit a field goal in the final eight minutes of the game.
They knew it would come down to defense.
“When you’re not playing well on offense you have to adjust by locking down on defense,” first-year guard Stephanie Watts said. “We had to readjust our focus to locking down their shooters.”
Luckily for the Tar Heels, they built a large enough first-half lead to give themselves room to breathe in the second half.
“We did a great job of jumping out in the beginning, which we haven’t been doing well in the last couple of games that we’ve lost,” sophomore guard Jamie Cherry said.
Foul shooting saved North Carolina in the end, as the team converted on 20 of its 22 shots from the free throw line.
Redshirt senior Erika Johnson, a 39 percent free throw shooter on the season, converted two big foul shots with only minutes remaining. The game came down to two big free throws from redshirt junior Hillary Summers with 7.4 seconds left.
She hit both of them.
Coach Sylvia Hatchell believes UNC has blown leads in the past due to a lack of leadership and maturity.
The lack of experience showed in this matchup, with the Tar Heels choosing to hold the ball out for the duration of the shot clock.
“We were trying to run some things and use the clock, and some of that just falls under experience,” Hatchell said. “A more junior-senior heavy team would have just drove the ball in and scored.”
In what is being considered a learning season for North Carolina, this win marks a turning point for the young team. The Tar Heels were able to stand tough against an ACC opponent and hold on to their lead.
“We are light years away from where we were in November,” Hatchell said.