Leaning over the light blue railing that separates fans from the game in Carmichael Arena, she started giving out hugs — too many to count — to the family members who watched her play. Her grandparents, her sisters, her dad and others.
“Having that love and support there just meant the world to me,” Smith said.
The North Carolina women’s basketball team lost, 95-71, to No. 13 Duke on Sunday, but Smith was celebrating a career-high five 3-pointers that came from doing what she always does — getting open in the corners.
“That’s her spot,” head coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “We always know where to look for her.”
It’s where Smith has always found holes against transition and zone defenses. Opponents overlook Smith, but her teammates don’t.
Her first look was on the left side. She found herself open behind the 3-point line and lofted a shot over a Duke defender’s outstretched hands.
When it went in, tears filled the eyes of her grandmother and sister.
Her basket gave UNC a 5-2 lead over the Blue Devils (25-4, 13-3 ACC). North Carolina gave it up about two minutes later and never led again.
Coming into Sunday, the Tar Heels (14-15, 3-13 ACC) didn’t have many reasons to be optimistic. They lost to Duke, 70-58, in a road game on Jan. 12 — and that was before starters Hillary Fuller, Destinee Walker and Stephanie Watts were sidelined with injuries.
Against those odds, it’s hard to ignore the promise of a fresh start in the ACC Tournament in Conway, S.C. — where UNC faces Pittsburgh on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.
“We can put the season behind us and go out there and give it everything we’ve got,” first-year Taylor Koenen said.
North Carolina — the youngest team in the country — hasn’t had a first-year lead it in scoring in any game this season. But Smith led her team with nine points at the half.
With just under seven minutes left in the game, Smith got her final look: wide open on the right side. Securing the pass from Koenen, she sailed the ball toward the hoop.
Another corner shot. Another swish.
The only shots Smith took came from beyond the arc. She made half of them for a career-high 15 points.
Smith said her dad doesn’t smile a lot. But when she saw him, he was beaming.
She would have to wait to finish hugging her family, though. She needed to attend to the trickle of unfamiliar faces that had also gathered around her — young fans offering their congratulations. One held a black pen for her to sign a poster of the team’s roster photo.
The stealthy corner shooter couldn’t be ignored.