‘Bittersweet’: Cherry's heroics not enough for UNC women’s basketball on Senior Day
Erase the ceremony, and this was just another game for Jamie Cherry.
The North Carolina women's basketball team’s lone senior has gone through more trials in her four years as a Tar Heel than many could even fathom. Her coach was diagnosed with cancer, an academic scandal saw many of her teammates and friends transfer away, and over the last year she has dealt with the deaths of her aunt and uncle.
But if there is one word that describes Cherry — it would be resilient.
“Jamie hung in there,” head coach Sylvia Hatchell said after UNC's 86-80 loss to Syracuse on Thursday afternoon. “She stayed, she was loyal, committed, and so I think that says a lot about Jamie Cherry. The person she is, how much she wanted to play here and have a degree from the University of North Carolina ... Jamie has a lot of character with her. I think that's the greatest thing about her.”
Despite all of this, you would have never noticed that it was her Senior Day by the way she played. She was as poised and patient on Thursday night, just like as she'd been her entire career.
She took her first shot two minutes into the game. And, of course, it was a "Cherry bomb" from three.
The bucket didn’t go to Cherry’s head, as she kept moving the ball around and tried to not do too much. Her second shot came about six minutes later: a little hesitation pull-up for a deep two on the right wing. Swish.
It was at this point the crowd was taking in the importance of this night.
“I just tried to let the game come to me, try to get in a flow,” Cherry said. “Obviously the last 4-to-5 games my shot hasn't been falling. But today I was just trying to get into a rhythm, and all I needed to see was the ball go in the basket.”
Cherry continued to do just that. As the game went on, she found a little more space. She knocked another two-point jumper to give UNC the lead in the second quarter, and you could see the confidence in her eyes. Less than a minute later, she dropped another bomb from deep.
She was 4-for-4 and playing incredible basketball on her night.
North Carolina capped off a 12-0 run in the second quarter with Cherry grabbing a rebound, working up court and finding Jaelynn Murray with a beautiful pass. Murray knocked down the short jumper near the right block, and the score read 39-30 Tar Heels.
But this is when the game started to go sour.
The Orange finished the final 4:45 of the second quarter on an 11-2 run. Syracuse sophomore guard Tiana Mangakahia was sensational for most of this game. She leads the NCAA with 9.9 assists per game, and she finished with 14 on Thursday.
Mangakahia finished the half with an incredible drive to the right of the cup and put up a layup with just one second left on the clock. Syracuse captured a huge amount of momentum going into the half with the score tied 41-41.
This was definitely not the last that was heard of Mangakahia. She and Cherry immediately started going at each other in the second half in an electrifying point guard battle. The pair pressed each and got physical, and Cherry knew she had to assert herself.
“Just trying to harass her and just show her that I'm a senior," Cherry said. "I've been here, I've been in this type of environment.”
Cherry continued to show out in her final game at Carmichael Arena. Her defense kicked up a notch, grabbing two more steals in the second half to bring her total to four. While Manakahia had 14 assists on the day, the Tar Heel senior was instrumental in forcing her to have 10 turnovers as well.
Cherry, sensing that her team was starting to fade, ramped up her aggression as well. She went to the line for seven free throws in the final two quarters, knocking down each and every one.
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Cherry sank two more threes and totaled nine points in the fourth quarter, but the Orange's lead only continued to grow.
Her final home game, like so many in her career, was filled with her stats, but not a notch in the win column. Cherry finished with 23 points and four steals while playing every minute in the Tar Heels' eighth consecutive loss.
“Being a freshman and playing in a tough conference like the ACC, she's just show me a lot of things,” Bailey said. “How to be tough mentally. I've had ups and downs this whole ACC season, and just this season period … I've never played with a better point guard than Jamie Cherry.”
Cherry has seen struggles, love and buzzer beaters inside Carmichael Arena.
And while a loss is still a loss in the record book, people will remember Jamie Cherry’s senior night.
Because she is not the type of player you can ever forget.