Coming out of the break, the Tar Heels looked like a different team. A furious offensive rally coupled with airtight defense helped cut the deficit to just one early in the second half, before a pair of Bailey free throws gave UNC its first lead since the opening quarter.
A back-and-forth third period ensued, with both teams turning the ball over a number of times in the final few minutes. A Gillespie three-pointer followed by a pair of Kea free throws left the score tied at 47 heading into the final quarter.
Buckets from Kea and Bennett gave the home team a five-point lead early in the fourth, but the Seminoles quickly cut the lead to two. After a tense couple of minutes spent trading baskets, the Seminoles took the lead with 1:44 left after two free throws from Nicki Ekhomu made it 59-58.
Another pair of Ekhomu free throws made it 61-58 with under a minute left, before Kea was charged with a crucial offensive foul that gave the ball back to Florida state with 49.6 seconds on the clock. It was Kea’s fifth foul, meaning she was forced to watch the rest of the game from the bench.
On the ensuing FSU possession, Watts was called for a blocking foul, also her fifth, which allowed the Seminoles to make it a two-possession game with under 30 seconds remaining.
Down by four and with two of its biggest offensive threats consigned to the bench, UNC continued to fight. A Bennett layup followed by a missed free throw at the other end gave the Tar Heels a chance to tie the game with 15.9 seconds remaining.
On the next possession, Bennett got a great look, but her three-point attempt went in-and-out, and FSU was able to stretch the lead to four once again. Despite Bennett draining a long three with 1.9 seconds left, FSU was able to run out the clock on the following inbound play and UNC fell to a narrow 64-63 defeat.
Who stood out?
Watts dominated early on but couldn’t add to the eight points she put up in the opening three minutes. Kea finished as the Tar Heels’ leading scorer with 17 points, while Bailey and Bennett followed close behind with 16 and 15 points respectively.
For the Seminoles, Nausia Woolfolk led all scorers with 20 points.
When was it decided?
Throughout the first half, it looked like Florida State was in control and possibly on its way to a blowout, but the entire complexion of the game changed after halftime. UNC came out looking motivated after the break and as a result had a great chance to pull out a win.
UNC head coach Sylvia Hatchell said she challenged the team in the locker room at halftime to show what they were made of.
“I told them ‘this game is on national television,’” she said. “I said I wanted the announcers to have to say how hard North Carolina played in the second half.”
Bailey agreed that the team’s performance after halftime improved significantly.
“I thought there was more ball movement,” she said. “I thought we executed, and that was what came out of the locker room, just discussing executing, moving the ball, how we play off each other, and how we can be a championship team if we do that.”
The game was decided late, with UNC holding the lead up until the 1:44 mark. Florida State can thank its excellent free throw shooting down the stretch and a couple of costly late North Carolina fouls for helping it hold on to the win.
Why does it matter?
In the postgame press conference, Hatchell was adamant about her team deserving respect for how they’ve played despite a couple of close recent losses against tough opponents.
“People have got to understand that this team is a really good team,” she said. “I’ve got to do something to get the respect back that this team deserves. That really concerns me more than anything else, getting the respect that this team deserves from everybody, and I mean everybody. This is a championship team, these kids are working their behinds off, and we’re not getting any breaks.”
A close loss at No. 3 Louisville on Thursday followed by a one point loss to the 14-1 Seminoles may have produced an 0-2 start to ACC play, but UNC has shown it is capable of playing with just about any team in the country.
Yet with a trip to No. 14 Syracuse next on the schedule, things won’t be getting easier anytime soon.
When do they play next?
The team has a week off as classes resume in Chapel Hill before making the trip to Upstate New York to face the Orange on Sunday, Jan. 13th.
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