The No. 13 North Carolina women’s basketball team (4-0) persevered over unranked James Madison (3-2) on the road on Sunday afternoon, 76-65.
JMU started with an aggressive approach that led to two fouls within the first two minutes. UNC took advantage and took an early lead. However, the tables quickly turned when Peyton McDaniel scored eight points to help the Dukes take an 11-7 lead.
UNC junior guard Kennedy Todd-Williams converted on two free throws to bring the lead down, and the Tar Heels had it all tied by the under-five-minute mark. Junior wings Alyssa Utsby built off this momentum, scoring three consecutive layups and stretching UNC’s lead to 17-14.
However, the Dukes didn’t let it go, with Kiki Jefferson’s third layup of the day tying the score again. The quarter ended at a 19-19 tie.
Utsby broke the tie in UNC’s favor, bringing her total to 10 points in the game. But Jefferson also hit double figures soon after, and the game remained even.
With less than a minute left, the tides turned in JMU’s favor. Jefferson ended the quarter with a deep three that gave JMU a four-point lead that UNC immediately brought back down to a one point lead, but Jefferson made one more shot to re-establish a 34-30 score.
Both teams had trouble making the first shot of the second half, but it eventually went to junior guard Deja Kelly with a three to make it a one-point game. With that shot, North Carolina took its first lead of the second half with another three from Kelly and a shot from Todd-Williams to bring it to a 37-36 game.
The succession of ties broke again to end the third quarter, this time in North Carolina’s favor. Tied at 46, Kelly sunk both foul shots to make it a 47-46 lead, and stole the ball from JMU in the next play. Redshirt senior guard Eva Hodgson made another three to finally give UNC a 50-46 lead, and JMU only scored one more point before the quarter ended.
UNC finally established a seven-point 54-47 lead early in the fourth quarter with shots from both Hodgson and junior forward Anya Poole. After that, they kept the lead above four points. While JMU tried to close the gap, UNC hit its stride and ended the game with a 76-65 win.
Who stood out?
Kelly started the game slow, but her second half performance, especially in the fourth quarter, was essential to the UNC victory. She scored nine out of her 10 free throws, having the most attempts of the team. Thirteen of her 22 total points were made in the fourth quarter.
Jefferson kept the Tar Heels on their toes throughout the game, scoring both shots that gave JMU the lead going into the half. She made 20 points for JMU by the end of the third quarter, and ended the game with 30 points.
When was it decided?
The game was tight for three quarters, with neither team exceeding a four-point lead. UNC’s lead in the fourth quarter swung the game in the team's favor. The game was close enough that a scoring run by JMU could have put them back in position for the win. However, UNC hung on, extending the lead to a 76-65 win.
Why does it matter?
The Tar Heels came into their fourth game undefeated and ranked in the top 20. Their next game is the Phil Knight Invitational, which pits UNC against other ranked teams for the first time this season. Following the Invitational, the games only get more difficult, so heading into a harder stretch undefeated will help the team build momentum.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will next play Oregon in the Phil Knight Invitational on Thursday at 5 p.m.
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