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Friday February 3rd

Teonni Key makes grand return to the court in blowout win over South Carolina State

UNC Freshman Teonni Key (13) shoots and scores during the women's basketball game against South Carolina State Bulldogs on Wednesday, Nov 16 2022 at the Carmichael Arena.
Buy Photos UNC Freshman Teonni Key (13) shoots and scores during the women's basketball game against South Carolina State Bulldogs on Wednesday, Nov 16 2022 at the Carmichael Arena.

"Brick by brick."

That's what redshirt first-year Teonni Key repeated to herself over her two-year hiatus from basketball. Take it one day at a time, and eventually, she would get to show what she could do on the court. 

Today was finally that day. 

In a resounding 93-25 victory over South Carolina State, Key was able to finally don a North Carolina women’s basketball jersey and prove why she deserves her place on the team. 

She didn’t disappoint. 

In her 19 minutes of playing time, she racked up an impressive 13 points and 7 rebounds, and shot 83 percent from the free throw line. 

“You guys saw today why I’ve been really excited for the chance to say, 'Teonni Key, go in the game,'” head coach Courtney Banghart said. 

It hasn’t been an easy journey for Key. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic hitting in her senior year of high school and a debilitating right knee injury last year in the preseason, the former five-star recruit hasn't played a game in two years. 

When asked how close she is to being 100 percent, the guard replied that she “feels great” and that “the sky is the limit." She said she wants her comeback season to be one to remember.

Key first subbed in with just under 5 minutes left in the first quarter and wasted no time, immediately clinching an offensive rebound that led to an under-the-bucket layup for her first points as a Tar Heel. She went on to shine on both the offensive and defensive ends, with her 6-foot-4 frame effectively shutting down scoring efforts on behalf of the Bulldogs. 

“She's a two-way player,” Banghart said. “She impacts the game on both ends and she plays with good energy.”

Key partially attributes her success to the support of her teammates and the positive energy they bring. It was hard for her to feel like a true member of the team while she was on the bench, but today it was clear that she belonged. 

“That was my favorite part,” she said. “Finally just being out there with the team (and) feeling (like) a part of the team.”

The redshirt first-year is still getting better. Her personal goals are to keep improving every day by continuously working on her game and getting as much play time as possible.

“Every minute she plays is going to make her a minute better,” Banghart said.  

Banghart pointed to sophomore Destiny Adams' improvement path as one Key should follow, and Adams performed well in her own right on Wednesday. She recorded her first start at North Carolina due to a minor injury keeping junior Deja Kelly on the bench, and she surpassed all expectations. 

Adams scored a career-high 23 points, smashing her previous record of 10, which she accomplished in her previous game. She came within striking distance of her first double-double, but fell just short, only recording eight rebounds throughout the game. 

It was an impressive showing from the sophomore, who sometimes had trouble getting her shots to fall last year.

She was by no means banking on instant success, however. When asked if she expected to put so many points on the board, her response was simple. 

“I wasn't expecting it,” Key said. “It kind of came naturally I guess. I just went with the flow.”

With the victory on Wednesday, North Carolina is now 3-0 on the season. The team has some tough matches ahead, with its first road game coming on Sunday at James Madison before facing ranked opponents at the Phil Knight Invitational. Regardless, the Tar Heels are confident in their abilities to keep putting in impressive performances. 

“If you didn’t see it, you’re gonna have to come see it because it’s just going to get better,” Key said. 

@PeaceGwen

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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