Entering postgame interviews on Sunday night, head coach Courtney Banghart seemed disappointed as she joked with juniors Deja Kelly and Kennedy Todd-Williams.
Where were the locker room water bottle fights? UNC had just beaten a top-5 Iowa State team. And it was Banghart's first game in which both her team and the opponent were top-10 heavyweights.
“We didn’t want you to be cold,” Kelly told her coach.
“I was going to do it back!” Banghart replied.
When asked to start the press conference with opening thoughts about the game, Banghart had more jokes for the media in attendance at the Moda Center.
“Which game?” She quipped. “The first half, or the second half?”
After two straight come-from-behind victories against JMU and Oregon, UNC pulled off another comeback win on Sunday. No. 8 North Carolina climbed out of a 17-point deficit against No. 5 Iowa State thanks to a combined 39-point performance from Kelly and Todd-Williams in the second half.
UNC won the Phil Knight Invitational, 73-64, to hand the Cyclones their first loss of the season.
North Carolina shot just 21.2 percent from the field in the first half — marred by a 13.3 percent clip in a second quarter that saw the Tar Heels make just two field goals. Kelly, junior small forward Alyssa Ustby and redshirt senior shooting guard Eva Hodgson were the only Tar Heels to score in the first half.
“We leaned on each other,” Todd-Williams said. “We knew in the second half we had to come out stronger.”
In the second half, UNC shot a blistering 65.4 percent from the floor.
To hear Kelly tell it, this differential chalks up to UNC’s confidence increasing throughout the game.
“As y’all saw, the shots were not falling for me offensively in the first half,” the junior said. “Luckily, my coaches and my teammates were staying in my ear to stay confident and to keep shooting. And just me having that self-talk as well. I know that I’ve put the work in and I know what I’m capable of, so I knew that they were going to fall eventually.”
After going 1-9 from the field in the first half, Kelly broke out with 22 points in the latter half. She also got things going for her team by assisting Todd-Williams on a 3-pointer for the first UNC bucket of the second half.
Much like Kelly, Todd-Williams had been struggling up until that point. Despite being held scoreless in the first half, the junior wing found her stride on that 3-pointer and ended the night with 17 points.
“Once we saw those balls go inside the hoop, we just knew,” Todd-Williams said. “We’re a rhythm team, so we have to get in a rhythm and just keep rolling from there.”
After cutting Iowa State’s lead to eight points, UNC took over in the fourth quarter. In the first five minutes of the final period, North Carolina went on a 14-0 run led by Kelly, Todd-Williams and Hodgson.
As the Tar Heels found their rhythm, their confidence grew.
After two back-to-back 3-pointers by Hodgson and Kelly, redshirt first-year Teonni Key highlighted an electric bench celebration with players mimicking pistols with their hands and flexing.
UNC also began to take shots that the team didn't have the faith to attempt in the first half.
This was evidenced by the bucket that gave North Carolina its first lead of the game. With a little over seven minutes remaining, a quick trigger from Todd-Williams on a pull-up jumper made the score 55-53.
“I think they were really hesitant,” Banghart said. “That was where I didn’t love the first half. I thought they were really hesitant. And I get it — this is a huge game for them. So it wouldn’t help for me to yell at them. It was more, your hesitancy, I’ve got to call through that for them. Once we were able to do that, and keep it really simple about, ‘I don’t care what you’re doing, you’re shooting this shot.’ Then, (I can) just sit back and watch after that.”
While UNC’s 26-point swing is another testament to the Tar Heels’ grit, it is by no means the identity North Carolina hopes to take on.
"We don't want to be a team that's only a second-half team, so that's something that we definitely have to work on," Kelly said. "But obviously it feels great. It feels great to see us coming together in this way — on the road against top-ranked teams — that's a great feeling for anybody. We're going to sit in that tonight, and tomorrow it's on to the next."
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