Fresh off a championship at the Goombay Splash in the Bahamas and a win in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge at Minnesota, the North Carolina women’s basketball team returned home for the first time in over two weeks on Sunday.
Its opponent – the James Madison Dukes – is a team Virginia has fallen to in the past two seasons. With recent emotional victories and a quietly-good opponent coming to Carmichael Arena, one might think the Tar Heels could’ve come out flat.
All those thoughts evaporated about three minutes into the game, as UNC took down the Dukes 93-47 in dominant fashion to keep its perfect 8-0 record.
As they’d done in every home game so far this season, the Tar Heels jumped out to an enormous early lead and never let the game come into doubt. North Carolina started the game on a 17-2 run and led 28-11 at the end of the first quarter, and the lead ballooned to 51-22 at halftime with quality shot contests defensively and efficient side-to-side ball movement on offense.
“I thought it was the best game all year we’ve had sharing the basketball, which led to great shots,” head coach Courtney Banghart said.
Redshirt junior transfer guard Eva Hodgson recorded her 1,000th career point less than a minute into the fourth quarter on a three-pointer, and the New Hampshire native credited her teammates’ ability to share the ball for helping her reach this milestone.
“It’s amazing to be able to achieve that, especially with this group of people, and against JMU makes it even more special,” Hodgson said. “I give a big credit to my teammates for just finding me and being intentional with getting me shots."
Banghart emphasized how Hodgson’s performance epitomized her role with the team — not only as an experienced leader, but as a playmaker.
“I’m really happy for Eva,” Banghart said. “JMU’s a team she hasn’t beaten and her line of nine points and seven assists is what she is for us: a scorer, distributor and competitor.”
Sophomore guard Deja Kelly led UNC in scoring with 21 points – including 15 in the first half – to go along with five rebounds and three assists. Sophomore guard Alyssa Ustby chipped in an efficient 18-point, three-rebound performance in just 19 minutes, and sophomore forward Anya Poole snagged a team-high 10 boards to go along with her nine points.
North Carolina shot an impressive 67 percent from three for the game, making 10 of 15. To this point, this is the best team three-point shooting performance in one game this season in Division-I women’s basketball, with a minimum of 10 makes, and Kelly credits that efficiency to ball movement and spacing created by one of her fellow sophomores.
“We’ve been moving the ball really well, and that opened up a lot of shots for a lot of people," Kelly said. "Anya Poole has grown so much since last year, and her dominance on the boards and finishing around the rim really helps our team. She’s also a willing passer who can kick out for threes.”
For all the Tar Heels’ offensive firepower, their defensive prowess certainly shined through once again. James Madison shot 28 percent from the field and a measly four percent from three – making only one of 25 – and the Dukes committed 16 turnovers. UNC converted those turnovers into 15 points.
With two more tune-ups in Carmichael before their first ACC game at Boston College, the Tar Heels will look to continue establishing consistent outside shooting threats and playing connected team defense, and hopefully, find themselves in the top 25.
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