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Fourth-quarter drought dooms UNC women's basketball in ACC Tournament quarterfinals against Duke


UNC junior guard Alyssa Ustby (1) tries to block a shot during the women’s basketball game in the third round of the ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C., on Friday, March 3, 2023. UNC fell to Duke 40-44.

GREENSBORO, N.C. – A fourth-quarter drought ended UNC’s ACC Tournament run. 

The No. 18 Tar Heels have found a way to pull out of its close games against No. 13 Duke this season. On Friday, the shots just weren’t falling. In the last four minutes, the Tar Heels missed their last seven shots and the game was over. North Carolina dropped the contest, 44-40, in a game that tied the fewest points in any ACC women’s tournament game ever.

“I didn't think we could score less,” coach Courtney Banghart, whose team finished with season lows for points and shooting, said. “I didn't think it would be as low scoring as it was the last time we played them, but it actually was.”

Five days removed from a 45-41 win over Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Tar Heels found themselves on the other end of another low-scoring affair.

After leading 36-34 at the end of the third quarter, UNC only managed to score four points in a 13 percent shooting performance in the final quarter. When it mattered most, the Tar Heels mustered their lowest score and shooting percentage in a quarter this season.

“We were getting the shots that we wanted, they just weren’t falling,” junior forward Anya Poole said. “We had two good back-to-back 3-pointers from (Deja Kelly) and Eva (Hodgson) that just didn’t fall. It wasn’t like it was a contested shot, they just weren’t falling.”

With just under six minutes remaining in the game, Poole converted on a layup off of an assist from redshirt first-year Kayla McPherson to put UNC up 40-38.

From there, UNC went cold.

Duke sophomore guard Reigan Richardson drew first blood in the eventual 6-0 Blue Devil. After a bad pass from McPherson, sophomore guard Shayeann Day-Wilson drove into the paint and dished it out to a wide-open Richardson, who stood just inside of the 3-point line. Her jumper tied the game at 40-40.

At the 1:58 mark, senior forward Elizabeth Balogun made it to the line and extended the Duke’s lead to 42-40.

A minute later, the Day-Wilson took a trip to the line. Seventeen seconds later, another. Day-Wilson converted on two of her four free throws to put Duke up 44-40 with three seconds remaining.

UNC, in the meantime, missed its last seven shots of the game. It wasn’t that the Tar Heels collapsed, the shots simply weren’t falling.

“They weren’t really doing anything differently,” junior guard Deja Kelly said. “They’re a pretty good defensive team. They have been all year. But I think, you know, we got the looks that we wanted and we just couldn’t really convert.”

Kelly was the only Tar Heel to hit double figures, recording 11 points and three assists. Notably, nine of her points came in the first half, as she and the rest of the North Carolina offense began to misfire late in the game.

There were some bright spots — UNC’s 12 turnovers were a stark improvement from the team’s 21 against Duke on Sunday. Also, North Carolina’s ability to play McPherson at the point and Kelly off the ball shows some promise for diversified offensive looks the Tar Heels can offer in the offseason.

But in the end, a four-minute scoring drought in the game’s final stretch ended UNC’s run in the ACC Tournament.

As the final buzzer sounded — and the ball came off of the fingertips of Hodgson as she fumbled the in-bounds pass — the Tar Heels were yet again unable to come up with one final shot. 

“We took 12 more shots,” Banghart said. “Usually if you take 12 more shots, you win that game. That's kind of a statistical deal there, and we only turned it over 12 times. There's a lot of things these guys did well. We didn't make enough shots, unfortunately.”


@dthsports |

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Shelby Swanson

Shelby Swanson is the 2023-24 sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as an assistant sports editor and senior writer. Shelby is a junior pursuing a double major in media and journalism and Hispanic literatures and cultures.