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The Daily Tar Heel

Jamie Cherry sinks go-ahead 3-pointer with 12 seconds left as UNC women's basketball beats Pittsburgh

The Tar Heels beat the Panthers, 68-67, for their first ACC win of the season

Jamie Cherry Presybterian

Guard Jamie Cherry (10) looks for a pass against Presbyterian in a game at Carmichael Arena on Dec. 5.

The North Carolina women’s basketball team secured a 68-67 win against Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon during UNC’s ACC home opener in Carmichael Arena.

The atmosphere was electric throughout the entire game, both on and off the court. With both teams starting conference play 0-2, a great deal was on the line for the rivals.

Until this game, the Panthers lead the all-time series over the Tar Heels 5-2. During the 2017 ACC Tournament, UNC ended its four-game losing streak with a 72-60 victory over Pitt in the first round.

Since head coach Sylvia Hatchell secured her 1,000th win against Grambling State on Dec. 19, the team has suffered three harsh losses. This win installed confidence, especially with it being an ACC win.

“It was hard fought ...” Hatchell said. "We’re doing some things that hurt us at times, distant shots and stuff like that, but we’re learning to play smarter with our fouls. They fought hard, and the crowd was great.”

The first two quarters of the game went back and forth between the two teams, littered with missed shots and frustrating fouls. Going into the half, UNC (11-5, 1-2 ACC) had a slight lead of 33-30 over the Panthers, which created an even more stressful environment within the arena.

At the half, first-year Janelle Bailey lead the team in points with 12, scoring six each quarter. Senior Jamie Cherry scored nine points while redshirt junior Paris Kea followed closely behind with eight points.

Coming out from halftime, the team had a faster tempo, but the game was still neck and neck throughout the third. Towards the end of the third quarter, the momentum started to shift when Hatchell made a quick substitute with one-minute remaining – a substitute that would help secure the win for UNC through her play and attitude.

“I put Leah in there because they ran zone,” Hatchell said. “She made a couple really big shots for us and really gave us some really good, strong, positive energy out there when we needed it.”

First-year Leah Church came into the game like a pistol. Despite only playing the last minute of the third quarter, she was fouled once and scored both of her free throws, closing the point gap between the two teams to 51-45.

“The key is just being ready,” Church said. “Coaches preach, 'Just bring energy when you get the chance,’ so I’m always ready. I’m always trying to stay focused, and I just try to mentally prepare what am I going to do when I get into the game.

I already know, 'What you got to do, Leah, is whether you take a shot or whatever, you need to show energy and help the team in any way you can.’”

When the fourth quarter rolled around, the Tar Heels played with fiery determination. The team was down 51-45, but that didn’t quiet the noisy crowd or court. Church scored a 3-pointer within the first 17 seconds, causing the crowd to erupt in cheers that didn’t stop.

“Church is one of the best shooters in the ACC,” Cherry said. “Paris and I are out there dropping and kicking so any time I could get out into the lane, my first option was to find Church somewhere. I knew she was out there somewhere out on the three.

“Every time I pass it to her I already know it’s going in.”

Despite the energy in Carmichael Arena, the Tar Heels started to fall behind as Pitt (8-8, 0-3 ACC) gained the largest lead of the game – eight points. Church’s play refocused the team as she scored another three. Not even a minute later, Cherry also scored a three, bringing the game within two.

She was fouled a few seconds later, made her two free throws, and tied the game 60-60.

The teams went back and forth, answering each basket of their opponent with one of their own. With under a minute left, Cherry was triple teamed, forced to wind down the shot clock. In the very last second, she released a shot, misses, but Kea rebounded. She immediately passed it to Cherry, who scored a three with 12 seconds left, giving UNC a one-point lead of 68-67 with 12.8 seconds remaining.

“I try to take my time and gather myself and not let anyone rush my shot,” Cherry said.

The arena was tense. Fans were on their feet, some with their hands on their heads while others rock back and forth anxiously. A foul, few missed free throws by Pitt, and several UNC timeouts later, the Tar Heels added a well-earned tally to their win column.

“We’re fighting hard ...” Hatchell said. "Any time you get an ACC win, it’s big.”

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In celebration, Hatchell and her husband danced the shag in midcourt, eliciting many cheers from the audience.