Leaning on one leg, teetering out of bounds, Jackson State guard Miya Crump had her last-ditch pass stuffed by UNC redshirt senior Eva Hodgson with 35 seconds remaining in North Carolina’s season-opener. As Hodgson turned to bring the ball up the court, Crump fell backwards, propped her elbows up on her team’s bench, and sat momentarily in defeat.
Hodgson, referred to by head coach Courtney Banghart as UNC’s “sixth starter” last season, earned her first official start on Wednesday night in North Carolina’s matchup against Jackson State. The graduate student, who transferred to UNC last year after two seasons at William & Mary, made her presence felt from the tipoff until the buzzer sounded at the end of the 91-59 win.
“She was basically a starter last year, so it’s no surprise,” junior Deja Kelly said. “Just to see her in that starting lineup with us and to be able to start the game with us, that adjustment worked out really well.”
The Tar Heels knew this matchup against the Tigers would be no easy feat. UNC junior guard Kennedy Todd-Williams admitted that the team had been discussing JSU forward Daja Woodard — who went viral a week ago with a video of her dunking — heading into this matchup. However, the Tigers' aggressiveness in the opening minutes of the game still seemed to stun the Tar Heels.
In an opening quarter that saw several bodies hit the floor and Todd-Williams jaw with Woodard (Todd-Williams said Woodard called her “small”), it was intense to say the least. However, Hodgson was key for the Tar Heels early on, leading UNC in scoring in the opening half and embodying a calm-yet-tough demeanor that steadied the team throughout rough periods marred by a highly-physical Tigers defense.
With a little over three minutes to play in the first quarter, Hodgson — one of UNC’s best 3-point shooters last season — took and made the first 3-pointer of the season for the Tar Heels. She stuck three fingers in the air in celebration as she walked back down the court. The moment was momentum-shifting, allowing UNC to jump out to a 14-8 lead and kickstarting an 11-3 run to end the first quarter.
By halftime, Hodgson was leading the Tar Heels with 13 points. Aside from her offensive impact, Hodgson’s role as a vocal leader on the court could be heard from the stands.
Late in the first quarter, first-year guard Paulina Paris’ errant pass to Kelly bounced out of bounds due to JSU’s pressure on the perimeter. As the Tar Heels walked down the court, Hodgson turned to her teammates to let them know, “Hey, we’re good." During free throws, Hodgson called out to her squad to instruct on who would carry the ball up the court.
“I’ve really just tried to be a voice for everyone because as it helps them, it helps me just as much because I’m constantly reminding myself what I need to do,” Hodgson said.