One game after the biggest win in program history, the North Carolina women’s basketball team took care of business against a middle-of-the-road conference opponent in Georgia Tech, 91-90, on Thursday night at Carmichael Arena.
Redshirt senior guard Paris Kea, who led the Tar Heels (13-9, 4-4 ACC) with 29 points against the Yellow Jackets (13-8, 3-5 ACC), struggled early. But it didn’t take long for UNC’s star to find her rhythm and take over the contest to give the Tar Heels their third straight win.
Kea had zero points in the opening quarter and shot 0-for-5 from the floor. When she sunk her first basket of the night — a mid-range jumper that pushed UNC’s lead back to nine points less than two minutes into the second quarter — it brought the crowd to its feet.
They knew it was just a matter of time before she found her touch.
The 5-foot-9 guard scored two more times in the next 2:19 to begin her second quarter scoring spree. Kea finished the half with 12 points on 5 of 10 shooting from the floor.
UNC led by as many as 14 points in the first half and went into halftime with a 11-point advantage.
Redshirt junior guard Stephanie Watts joined Kea as the only other Tar Heel to score double figures before the second half. Watts had 10 points and hit two 3-pointers, adding to the team’s nine first-half makes from beyond the arc.
But Georgia Tech came out in the second half with a different energy. First-year guard Elizabeth Balogun continued to dominate for the Yellow Jackets and the Tar Heels didn’t have an answer.
Balogun hit 4 out of 5 of her shot attempts to score 11 points in the third quarter. And by the start of the final quarter, she had upped her total to 27 points and cut the UNC lead to just three points in the process.
The Yellow Jackets didn’t go away in the fourth quarter, either. Georgia Tech kept the contest close and sophomore guard Kierra Fletcher’s 2-point jumper gave the team its first lead with less than a minute left to play.
However, nine seconds later, Kea came down the court and nailed a jump shot from near the top of the foul line to keep the Tar Heels in the driver’s seat.
Then, after an airball 3-point attempt from Balogun and a shot clock violation for Georgia Tech kept the score at 88-87, Kea was fouled as she attempted to run the clock out. Two makes at the charity stripe gave UNC a three-point advantage, but Balogun wasn’t done.
She got Watts to bite on a pump fake and drew a foul from beyond the 3-point line. Carmichael Arena was the loudest it had been all night, but Balogun wasn’t fazed. The first-year showed the poise of a veteran as she sunk all three foul shots to tie the game.
On the final Tar Heel possession, sophomore center Janelle Bailey was fouled on a shot attempt. Bailey, who had hit 5 of 6 free throw attempts before that moment, missed the first shot.
Bailey, who appeared frustrated with officiating throughout the night, said she told herself to stay calm and treat the last free throw like any other shot. The 6-foot-4 center nailed one attempt, and UNC escaped with a one-point win.
Who stood out?
Continuing her offensive dominance, Kea was 9-for-16 from the floor on the night and produced another stellar 29 points for the Tar Heels, while turning the ball over just once.
Bailey was also 7-for-12 from the floor, totaling 20 points to go with six rebounds in the narrow victory. Her game-winning free throw let the Tar Heels avoid a letdown after a statement victory on Sunday.
When was it decided?
The Tar Heels lost their lead just once, but it came with less than a minute remaining in the game.
Fletcher hit a jumper with 50 seconds left in the fourth period that pushed Georgia Tech to a 87-86 lead, but it was quickly answered by Kea just eight seconds later. The contest went back and forth and was tied with one second left when Bailey’s free throw was the difference.
Why does it matter?
The historic win against Notre Dame did not leave the Tar Heels fatigued, and they came out with a similar energy in the conference matchup. UNC is now 4-4 in the ACC.
The victory was also North Carolina's fourth win in the last five games.
When do they play next?
North Carolina travels to Raleigh to take on an undefeated N.C. State team on Sunday at 2 p.m.
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