When the buzzer sounded to mark the end of the first half in the North Carolina women's basketball team's bout against James Madison, the Tar Heels walked into the locker room forced to reckon with an experience they hadn't faced all season — they were losing.
Following three blowout wins to open the season, the Tar Heels struggled early on Sunday against the Dukes and headed into the break with a four-point deficit. Although North Carolina was ultimately able to secure its fourth win, 76-65, the team had to dig deep and look to its leaders to swing the momentum for a late push.
From the beginning of the game, the Dukes' offense gave the Tar Heels fits. UNC junior guard Deja Kelly described the team's defense as “discombobulated” in the first quarter, which allowed JMU to drain five 3-pointers in the first quarter.
Trailing at the break, the Tar Heels knew something needed to change.
Both Kelly and graduate guard Eva Hodgson described the team’s talk at halftime as being instrumental to the second-half turnaround. Defense was a major sticking point, as UNC had allowed JMU to take too many high-percentage shots from beyond the arc. Hodgson pointed out that North Carolina's “offense comes from (its) defense,” so it was crucial to tighten the defense in order to help shots start to fall.
In the end, though, it was a less analytical shift that allowed the team to flip the switch.
“It was really just the realization of ‘We’re not losing this game. We’re going to do what it takes to not lose it,’” Hodgson said.
When the clock started in the third quarter, Hodgson played with a renewed sense of energy. She had been focusing too much on facilitating the offense in the first half of the game, and in the second half, she began to take things herself.
The new mentality allowed her to capitalize on 3-point opportunities, as she drained three crucial triples late in the third quarter to help the Tar Heels take the lead.