Less than a week after she led the North Carolina women’s basketball team to its biggest win in years — a five-point defeat of then-No.1 Notre Dame — Paris Kea’s game looked off.
In a 91-90 win over Georgia Tech on Thursday night, the redshirt senior guard went scoreless in the first quarter and missed her first five shots. But the crowd at Carmichael Arena had to have known her drought wouldn’t last for long.
When Kea scored her first basket of the game with 8:18 left in the second quarter, UNC fans were on their feet. She scored two more times in the following minutes and never cooled off on the way to a 29-point outing that helped the Tar Heels (13-9, 4-4 ACC) get by the Yellow Jackets (13-8, 3-5 ACC).
“I didn’t tell her anything,” head coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “I said, ‘You just play. Play, girl.’ I think when they went to the press in the second half, that probably actually helped Paris. Because in the open court, she’s pretty doggone good.”
Whether it was that the Yellow Jackets’ defensive adjustment backfired or that Kea simply found her touch, something clicked in the second half. Kea scored 17 of her 29 points after halftime.
However, as good as Kea was, she wasn’t the best player on the court.
Georgia Tech first-year guard Elizabeth Balogun scored 35 points and hit six of her 12 3-point attempts. Balogun kept the Yellow Jackets in the game and by the end of the third quarter, the Tar Heels’ 11-point halftime lead had shrunk to a three-point advantage.
“When we went through the line, I told her, ‘Girl, you’re a heck of a player,’” Hatchell said. “I mean, really. We didn’t have any answer for her.”
After a Georgia Tech shot clock violation gave UNC the ball back with a 88-87 lead and 10 seconds left, Kea tried to run the clock out but was fouled. She came up big again, this time with two made free throws that gave the Tar Heels a three-point advantage.