Through the good, the bad and the ugly, just about one thing remained pretty and pure — the jumpshot coming off of redshirt junior guard Eva Hodgson’s fingertips.
In an ugly and scrappy 64-54 win over Pittsburgh, the No. 23 North Carolina women’s basketball team struggled to find an offensive rhythm — shooting 32.2 percent from the field and falling over 10 points short of its season points per game average.
Then there was Hodgson, a very fortunate outlier for the Tar Heels Thursday night.
“I don’t like where we’d be without Eva,” head coach Courtney Banghart said.
Something she has said many times, actually.
In the midst of a physical game with players hitting the floor left and right and the team struggling to find the bottom of the net, Hodgson was crucial in making sure the Tar Heels didn’t fold.
She shot 80 percent from the field and didn't miss a single 3-point attempt, which she hadn’t done since the first game of the season. Hodgson finished as the second-leading scorer for UNC with 14 points, and to make it more impressive, this productivity came off the bench which Banghart describes as “hard” because she wasn't warmed up like the starters.
Hodgson was a stand-out starter at William and Mary, but her role has shrunken a bit for this Tar Heel squad this season.
Games like tonight indicate that nothing has changed for Hodgson with the change in minutes.
“It’s a mentality that my parents kind of engraved in us at a young age, you contribute in any way possible,” Hodgson said. “And so whether that means I come off the bench, if I was needed to be a cheerleader on this bench, that’s what I would be. Whatever I’m needed to do, I’m going to do.”
For instance, UNC needed shots to fall, and Eva — like she said she would — made them when they counted.
With just over five minutes to go in the game, Pittsburgh cut the lead to seven after being down by as much as 22 in the third quarter. The momentum seemed to suggest a Panthers comeback — until sophomore guard Deja Kelly found Hodgson for a wide-open three beyond the arc to put the lead back to 10.
“I was like, she’s gonna knock it down,” Kelly said. “You know, usually every time I pass it to her, I know she’s gonna hit that three.”
Hodgson was as confident in herself as Kelly was when she told herself — while setting up for the shot — “shoot it like you shoot it.”
And how she had been shooting all night, there was no surprise it went in and essentially put Pittsburgh away.
The Tar Heels are now 9-4 in the ACC and are looking towards a strong finish to the season and optimal seeding in both the conference and NCAA tournaments.
With recent shooting struggles from its top scorers and the poor shooting percentages from Thursday night, outsiders may see reason to be concerned — but Banghart sees it as a needed experience.
“Things have happened a little bit easier over the last couple of weeks,” Banghart said. “It was good to get a little adversity, and I think that will be kind of good for this group.”
Tougher opponents and closer games are ahead, especially on Sunday when the Tar Heels will go to Blacksburg, Va. for a rematch against Virginia Tech, a team UNC defeated by 25 in early January.
If all else fails, the Tar Heels can rely on the elite depth they have displayed this season as Hodgson was just one of many times someone stepped up to make a game-changing difference.
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