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The Daily Tar Heel

Recap: UNC women's basketball drops road game, 76-68, at No. 8 N.C. State

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Senior Taylor Koenen (1) goes up for a shot in Reynolds Coliseum on Sunday, Jan. 26. 2020.

RALEIGH — Foul trouble doomed the North Carolina women’s basketball team in an 76-68 loss to rival N.C. State on the road on Sunday night.

Janelle Bailey and Malu Tshitenge were relegated to the bench for large stretches of the Tar Heels’ defeat, which dropped them to 14-6 and 5-4 in the ACC. The No. 8 Wolfpack (19-1, 8-1 ACC) were led by forward Elissa Cunane (22 points, 17 rebounds).

What happened?

N.C. State’s Cunane struggled in the teams’ first matchup, so the Wolfpack fed their star player early and often Sunday night. It worked well — N.C. State went on a 10-0 run and, more notably, drew two fouls on UNC’s Janelle Bailey.

Later in the first, the Tar Heels went on a small run of their own — punctuated by a Taylor Koenen 3-pointer — and trimmed their deficit to 17-11.

Koenen stayed hot in the second quarter, scoring a quick seven in five minutes to combat N.C. State’s Cunane and Aislinn Konig. And head coach Courtney Banghart took a risk in subbing Bailey back in — that backfired at the 5:20 mark, when the junior was called for her third foul.

North Carolina found itself even more shorthanded when fellow big Malu Tshitenge was called for her third foul minutes later (frustration from that call and others led to a Banghart technical).

With its two starting forwards relegated to the bench, UNC leaned even further on Koenen, who finished the half with 16 and kept the Tar Heels within striking range. N.C. State led 37-30 at half.

UNC came out of halftime on a 7-0 run to cut its deficit to three points. With Bailey and Tshitenge back in the game, the Tar Heels were able to limit Cunane’s impact early in the second half. And by the first media timeout of the third quarter at the 4:35, the Wolfpack’s 6-foot-5 center had missed all four of her second-half field goal attempts. 

But when Tshitenge was subbed out after her fourth foul of the contest, Cunane became a force again, finishing the third quarter with nine rebounds. 

More importantly, Konig stepped up. The senior guard made two of her three second-half 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach for the Tar Heels. 

Who stood out?

Koenen, UNC’s second-leading scorer, carried UNC’s offense while Bailey spent more than half of the first half on the bench. The 6-foot-2 guard notched 16 points on six of nine shooting in the opening 20 minutes. She finished with 21 points; Bennett added 24.

But it wasn’t enough to counter the Wolfpack’s offense attack, largely fueled by feeding the ball down low to Cunane. 

With Bailey and Tshitenge playing limited minutes because of foul trouble, Cunane took advantage — the sophomore center led her team with 11 points in the first half and finished with 22.

And when Cunane slowed down early in the second half, everyone else pitched in for the Wolfpack. Konig and forward Kayla Jones drilled a combined six of the team’s 10 3-pointers to keep N.C. State in the driver’s seat for most of the second half.

When was it decided?

At the 1:40 mark of the third quarter, Konig sliced through UNC’s defense for an easy layup. It gave the Wolfpack a 13-point lead, their largest of the game.

North Carolina, mostly behind Koenen and Bennett, tried to whittle down that deficit but couldn’t.

Why does it matter?

The Tar Heels are halfway through ACC play and sit at 5-4, with recent losses to the conference’s top teams, including N.C. State, Louisville and Florida State.

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The loss also reflected North Carolina’s lack of depth. The Tar Heels’ five starters — Bailey, Tshitenge, Bennett, Koenen and Muhammad — all play heavy minutes and average double figures.

Behind those five, though, North Carolina doesn’t have many options. N.C. State exposed that weakness Sunday night.

When do they play next?

UNC hosts Virginia on Thursday at 6 p.m. The Cavaliers (8-12, 3-6 ACC) are among the conference’s weakest teams but did beat Notre Dame, 90-60, in their most recent game.

@chapelfowler | @pupadhyaya_

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com