TUCSON, Ariz. — With the clock winding down in the third quarter, the No. 12 seed Stephen F. Austin seemed poised to pull off the upset against the No. 5 seed North Carolina.
That was when redshirt junior Eva Hodgson received the ball outside of the 3-point line for the Tar Heels, who were trailing by two points. She knew that this shot could change the momentum of the entire game.
Hodgson, the team’s best three-point shooter at 37 percent, rose up and fired. Her eyes were firmly planted on the rim as the ball just barely rattled out. The buzzer sounded, ending the quarter. As her teammates headed toward the bench, Hodgson remained in place, eyes still on the rim, displeased at the missed opportunity to take the lead.
“I had realized we were down going into the fourth (quarter),” she said. “So I was hoping that three was going to fall and when it didn’t, I knew we had to come out with a little more fire in the fourth.”
Coming out of the gate in the final period, Hodgson caught the ball once again outside the 3-point line, in the exact same spot she found herself at the end of the third.
This time, with a quick hesitation move, Hodgson shook her defender and then let off a floater just within the paint.
Hodgson’s decisive shot tied the game back up — and the Tar Heels never looked back. North Carolina would go on to win 79-66, and outscored SFA 25-10 in the final quarter.
It was a fitting moment for Hodgson, who has become a pivotal piece of the Tar Heels' second unit this season.
“Man, Eva Hodgson, she is such a burst of energy coming off the bench,” sophomore guard Deja Kelly said. “She takes charges, she does the dirty work, she hits open threes. We love having Eva on the court.”
Outside of scoring 10 points for the Tar Heels in Saturday’s NCAA Tournament first round win, Hodgson fulfilled her role as a captain by being both a noticeable voice on the court and an indisputable leader in the team’s ball movement.
In back-to-back possessions late in the game that saw Kelly and graduate transfer Carlie Littlefield knock down triples, Hodgson was vital. Her hockey assist and assist respectively in those two possessions led to the shots, as SFA called its second timeout of the fourth quarter.
When the whistle blew to signal the timeout, Hodgson’s voice carried easily across the court. Crying out in celebration, she clashed with Littlefield atop the giant “A” insignia at midcourt for a triumphant chest bump.
“Energy is something that takes little effort,” Hodgson said. “I think to be there for my teammates and to hype them up is something that’s a guarantee, whether I’m making shots or not. If I can give a chest bump, a high five, a slap on the butt — it encourages them to keep going.”
In Saturday’s game, Hodgson proved herself to be a role player that, as described by sophomore guard Alyssa Ustby, North Carolina needs in order “to go far in March.”
Her leadership and grit is even more notable considering it was Hodgson’s first appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
On Friday — a day before UNC started its tournament run — head coach Courtney Banghart met with each of her players individually to talk through Saturday’s game plan and level any postseason jitters they may have had. In Hodgson’s meeting, however, the talk strayed from just the X’s & O’s.
“I told her when we met yesterday, 'you’re too good a player not to have played in March,'” Banghart said.
With the Big Dance fully underway, Hodgson can feel confident that she’s found her footing. Though it may have not earned her a postgame interview on ESPN and wasn't as flashy as her buzzer-beater against Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament, her performance on Saturday will certainly go down as a pivotal moment in UNC’s run if the Tar Heels continue their march through the bracket.
“This is something that I’ve dreamed about doing for a long time,” Hodgson said. “My goal at my previous school was to get us to this point, and we never did. So to be able to do it in my first year here is just unbelievable."
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