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The Daily Tar Heel

'Just tough tonight': Frustration with refs overshadows UNC's loss to N.C. State

The women's basketball team lost, 76-68, to its rival Sunday night.

Head Coach Courtney Banghart yells at the refereee during the game against N.C. State in Reynolds Coliseum on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020. UNC lost to N.C. State 68-76. 2

RALEIGH Standing in a mostly empty Reynolds Coliseum on Sunday night, Janelle Bailey smiled when asked for her thoughts on North Carolina’s 76-68 loss to rival N.C. State.

“How do I say this ...” the junior began. “Can I have the stat sheet?”

She pored over the final box score, acclimated herself with the numbers and continued.

“OK, so, the person I was guarding was four of 12,” Bailey told the Daily Tar Heel. “And she made 14 free throws — went there 16 times. I don't have to say anything else. That's pretty much my summary of the game.”

She spoke for her team and coach alike with that carefully worded yet crystal clear answer.

The Tar Heels (14-6, 5-4 ACC) came to Raleigh looking to topple the No. 8 Wolfpack for the second time this season. But they left with more frustration toward the game’s referees than toward anything they did too poorly or N.C. State (19-1, 8-1 ACC) did too well.

A primer on the stats Bailey referenced and the story they tell: N.C. State forward Elissa Cunane, who struggled in the teams’ first meeting, shot 16 free throws. UNC, as a team, shot 14. The Tar Heels were called for 18 fouls — including a technical assessed to the bench — to the Wolfpack’s 12.

And, most notably, Bailey and fellow forward Malu Tshitenge spent long stretches of the rivalry game on the bench, deep in foul trouble, unable to play the heavy minutes they have all season as UNC’s starting frontcourt. By game’s end, both had fouled out.

“I think Janelle played through adversity like a grown woman,” head coach Courtney Banghart said. “I think Malu played through adversity like a grown woman. It was hard because you can't really tell what they're doing wrong — because I don't know, right?”

The first time these teams met, on Jan. 9, UNC won 66-60 in Chapel Hill. Cunane struggled, scoring just eight points on 3-11 shooting and logging five turnovers while being primarily guarded by Bailey.

Cunane’s scoring presence was obviously missed in the Wolfpack’s loss that day — their first (and, to this point, their only) of the 2019 season.

N.C. State fed their star sophomore early and often Sunday night. That resulted in points, of course, but also two key foul calls on Bailey. At the 4:07 mark of the first quarter, UNC’s leading scorer (15.2 points per game) subbed out for Leah Church.

She didn’t return until the 8:57 mark of the second quarter — then, she was back on the bench again after getting a third foul called on her three minutes later.

“Malu and I are a big part of the team,” Bailey said. “We rely heavily on our starting five ... Those (foul) stats, when that happens? A lot of things change.”

Tshitenge was also called for three fouls in the first half. That forced Banghart to roll out a lineup few would have expected to see the court against a top-10 team in the country: Shayla Bennett, reserve guards Church, Kennady Tucker and Nia Daniel and the 6-foot-2 Koenen at center.

That group hung around — thanks mostly to Koenen’s 16 first-half points — and trailed 37-30 at the break. Banghart, Bailey and Koenen all praised the team’s reserves for their “good minutes” down that stretch.

“I'm proud of our team for fighting,” Koenen told the DTH. “We’d never blame the refs, but it was just tough tonight. I mean, we had a lot of bigs in foul trouble; we were all trying to play out of position. But that just shows we fight.”

In the second half, N.C. State kept running its offense through Cunane and sharpshooter Aislinn Konig, who finished with 16 points and four threes of her own. In the third quarter, the Wolfpack led by as many as 13.

UNC, meanwhile, tiptoed around, subbing in Bailey and/or Tshitenge for spurts before they got their fourth fouls and returned to their seats.

The Tar Heels flirted with their deficit a few times but couldn’t get it under six or so en route to their sixth loss of the season. And Banghart and her players, while refraining from full-on criticism, made their opinions of why that happened clear.

“Put the guys up here and ask them a few questions,” Banghart said of the officials at one point in her postgame news conference. “That would be helpful.”

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