GREENSBORO, N.C. — The No. 16 North Carolina women’s basketball team (23-6, 13-5 ACC) fell to No. 21 Virginia Tech (23-8, 13-5 ACC), 87-80, in the ACC tournament quarterfinals at the Greensboro Coliseum on Friday.
Both teams couldn’t seem to miss in the first half. Virginia Tech was forced to make do without its center, ACC player of the year Elizabeth Kitley, who headed to the locker room early in the second quarter with an apparent injury. Her absence on both ends of the floor was evident, as the Tar Heels finished the half with 22 paint points compared to the Hokies’ six.
Both teams slowed down in the third quarter, with the Hokies slowly chipping away at the lead. Virginia Tech took its first lead of the game late in the third quarter with a 7-0 scoring run sparked by an and-one 3-pointer from guard Georgia Amoore.
Down 50-45, the Tar Heels looked to be in a pinch with redshirt junior guard Eva Hodgson double-teamed at the top of the key. Hodgson found sophomore Deja Kelly, who had been quiet for most of the game, on the right wing for a buzzer beater 3-pointer.
Sophomore guard Alyssa Ustby picked up her fourth foul within the first two minutes of the fourth quarter and had to head to the bench. After Todd-Williams missed a trey from the left corner, Poole secured the rebound and kicked it out to Hodgson for a 3-pointer from the right wing to tie the game, 52-52.
Free throws helped the Tar Heels keep pace with the fast-paced Hokie offense, and Kelly sank mid-range pull-up jumpers on three consecutive plays to match Virginia Tech’s torrent from downtown.
With UNC up 64-63 with less than a minute to play, a miscommunication by the Virginia Tech defense left graduate guard Carlie Littlefield wide open for a jumper. On the next play, graduate guard Aisha Sheppard was fouled on a 3-point attempt, awarding three free throw shots. After draining all of them, the score was tied 66-66 with 36 seconds left.
The Hokies forced a jump ball and received the ball with 6.8 seconds left. Amoore muscled her way for an and-one layup and hit the free throw, forcing UNC head coach Courtney Banghart to call a timeout.
With 2.3 seconds left, UNC inbounded the ball to Ustby, who found a wide open Hodgson for a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to send the game into overtime.
The teams kept trading baskets well into overtime, with UNC seeing buckets from Hodgson and Ustby, and Sheppard draining another trey. However, the Hokies broke away with two minutes to play for a 14-2 scoring run bolstered by free throws to win the game.
Who stood out?
Until she got into foul trouble early in the second half, Ustby had been doing it all for North Carolina — backing down defenders, finding open teammates, hitting stepback jumpers and even sinking heat checks after the whistle. Ustby finished with 18 points on 7-13 shooting to go with seven rebounds and four assists.
Additionally, UNC had five players score in double figures — including Ustby, Todd-Williams, Kelly and Poole — but it was Hodgson who hit the game-tying 3-pointer to send the game into overtime. Hodgson finished with 13 points and shot 3-5 from downtown.
With Kitley sidelined, Virginia Tech sharpshooters led the Hokie offense. Sheppard, who holds the all-time ACC record in 3-pointers made, dropped 22 points and shot 4-10 from behind the arc. Amoore also had 22 points on 4-9 3-point shooting.
When was it decided?
Virginia Tech’s 14-2 scoring run in the final minutes of overtime put the game out of reach for the Tar Heels. Additionally, the red hot Hokies’ 37.9 percent shooting from downtown helped them assert control in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Why does it matter?
A win in the ACC tournament against a ranked Virginia Tech team would have significantly boosted UNC’s NCAA tournament resume, giving them a higher seed and a chance to host the first two rounds in Carmichael Arena. Instead, the team will most likely enter the tournament with a lower seeding and will have to play on the road.
When do they play next?
The loss marks the end of the Tar Heels’ ACC Tournament run. UNC will receive its seeding in the NCAA tournament on Selection Sunday, which is slated for March 13.
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