As fans filed into Carmichael Arena on Thursday night, the North Carolina women’s basketball team lined up along the baseline and ran quickly across the court in unison. Little did the fans know that an electric first half would help propel the team to victory against ACC opponent Wake Forest.
North Carolina (10-8, 1-3 ACC) comfortably defeated the Demon Deacons, 84-61, and secured its first conference win of the season. Before the game, the Tar Heels were 0-3 in ACC play.
Right from the opening tip, the Tar Heels started fast. On their first possession of the game, sophomore center Janelle Bailey scored in the paint to give her team a lead. Shortly after North Carolina took a 4-0 lead, redshirt sophomore Jocelyn Jones joined in and laid the ball into the basket off a fastbreak to give her team a 6-0 lead in the first two minutes. Four other Tar Heels joined in and scored during the opening quarter —Taylor Koenen, Paris Kea, Shayla Bennett and Stephanie Watts. By the time the first buzzer sounded, North Carolina had opened up a 24-10 lead.
The Tar Heels did not slow down from there. In the second period, Koenen contributed a quick five points. She made a layup on UNC's first possession of the period, then pulled up just behind the arc and sunk a step back 3-pointer on the next possession. In addition to Koenen, Watts made her presence known. In the second quarter alone, Watts scored on four separate occasions and tallied nine points.
To close out the half, Kea saw her shot blocked. However, with the seconds dwindling away, the redshirt senior guard scooped up the ball off the rebound and shot again. Her shot fell through the net as the final second ticked off the clock.
“I just got a screen on the top of the key, and I wanted to go into halftime with the momentum coming back out in the third quarter so I wanted to score for the team,” Kea said. “Got blocked, but I stayed with it and the last few seconds I finished a layup.”
In the second quarter, the Demon Deacons managed a meager eight points while the Tar Heels scored 32. In the first half, Wake Forest turned the ball over 15 times, which led to 22 points for North Carolina. Those turnovers were a key factor in North Carolina's 56-18 advantage at halftime. Despite the considerable lead, head coach Sylvia Hatchell cautioned her team about the drive Wake Forest would have in the second half.
“I tell them in the locker room, ‘They’re in there getting chewed out,'" Hatchell said. “'They are going to come out with unbelievable energy and intensity. They are going to come after you so hard.'”
Just like Hatchell predicted, Wake Forest started the third quarter with intensity. The Demon Deacons went on an 8-0 run to start the frame. For the first time in the contest, Wake Forest outscored the Tar Heels in a quarter, finishing with 25 points compared to the Tar Heels' 12. They outscored the Tar Heels, 18-16, in the fourth quarter as well.