The Tar Heels had looked good in spurts throughout the season, but they found themselves mired in a five-game losing streak.
“We’ve played really well at times, but we haven’t been able to put a whole game together ...” head coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “We had some breakdowns and lack of experience, but we’re getting better and better and better.”
That progress showed on Sunday afternoon, as UNC finally combined prolific offensive and defensive performances to snap its losing streak and upset the Wolfpack, 83-70.
“Tonight we were just clicking,” Hatchell said.
North Carolina (13-9, 2-7 ACC) forced the Wolfpack to play sloppily, thanks in large part to the double teams and pressure the backcourt applied to N.C. State’s ball handlers.
The Tar Heels’ guards took advantage of poor ball movement from the Wolfpack (16-6, 6-3 ACC), jumping passing lanes to help force 16 turnovers. North Carolina capitalized with 27 points on the fast break.
UNC was just as impressive on the other side of the ball, recording 18 assists and tying the school record for made 3-pointers in a game (14) while shooting 58.3 percent from deep.
“I thought we shared the ball really well — great team basketball,” Hatchell said. “We made a lot of threes, but they were good threes, good shots.”
Junior guard Jamie Cherry’s scoring stood out, in particular. After going scoreless in the first half, Cherry scorched the Wolfpack for 23 points in the final 20 minutes and made six of her eight attempted 3-pointers in the half.
“I wasn’t able to hit any shots in the first half, but I hit those open threes when they passed me the ball,” she said. “And they did a great job of getting me the ball because they knew I was hot.”
The junior unleashed a trademark “Cherry Bomb” with 4:58 left in the fourth quarter to push the Tar Heel lead to nine and seal the victory.
When asked how tough it is to guard UNC when Cherry shoots like she did on Sunday, redshirt sophomore guard Paris Kea was brief.
“Really tough,” she said.
Kea made a big impact on the game as well, scoring 21 points while adding eight assists and seven rebounds. Cherry and Kea were two of the Tar Heels’ four double-digit scorers, as UNC finished the game shooting 52.7 percent from the floor and held N.C. State to 32.9 percent.
But even after the complete performance, Hatchell thinks there’s room for improvement.
“We’re experimenting,” she said. “We’re a work in progress, but the kids did a nice job.”
“We’re still throwing a lot of things out there and seeing what works best for us.”