DURHAM, N.C. — The Tar Heels weren’t about to let the Blue Devils cut down any nets in front of them.
On Sunday, Duke was looking for more than just a top-25 win over its rivals on Senior Day. A victory against UNC would allow the team to capture its first ACC regular-season championship — and the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament that comes with it — since 2013.
“If they beat us, they’re going to cut down nets while we’re here,” head coach Courtney Banghart said.
In a chippy game in which both teams combined for 46 turnovers, UNC used the physical intensity of the Blue Devils to its advantage. By getting into the bonus in the second half, the Tar Heels earned and knocked down nine free throws.
Drawing fouls proved crucial in the 13-5 run that UNC used to close out the game, 45-41.
“You would like to not play defense where every foul is points for them,” Duke head coach Kara Lawson said. “And we got into that in the third and fourth quarters.”
In the game’s final three minutes, junior guards Deja Kelly and Kennedy Todd-Williams combined for 10 points. Six of those points were free throws, as the guards made an intentional effort to attack the hips of the Blue Devil defenders and draw contact.
With 13 seconds remaining, assessing the scene in front of her, Kelly controlled the ball at the point and initiated a one-on-one with Duke guard Shayeann Day-Wilson. Kelly, who is second in the ACC in free throw attempts, said that when she saw how tightly Day-Wilson was guarding her, she knew the sophomore would reach at some point. After pulling the ball back for a second, Kelly drove into Day-Wilson and, with a slight head jerk, cued the whistle blow.
"Just going to the free throw line, I was able to take a deep breath,” Kelly said. “I knew that I’m great in moments like that. I live for moments like these."