With 39 seconds left on the clock, Georgia Tech gave UNC a taste of its own medicine.
Flanked by two aggressive Yellow Jacket defenders, senior guard Deja Kelly lost control of the ball. Ten seconds later, Georgia Tech guard's Rusne Augustinaite converted a 4-point play.
After leading by as many as 14 points with five minutes to play, the UNC women's basketball team found itself up by just three. Any previous sense of comfort turned into peril. While the Tar Heels eventually won in Atlanta on Thursday, 73-68, head coach Courtney Banghart admits her team — a top-3 defensive squad in the ACC — was thrown off-kilter by one thing: the Yellow Jackets' defense.
“They defended us totally differently than we have been seeing for three weeks,” Banghart said. “They switched on screens [and] they hugged, hugged, hugged all over the perimeter.”
The Tar Heels maintained their fourth quarter lead thanks to redshirt sophomore forward Teonni Key, who returned to the court last month after recovering from injury. Although Key contributed a season-high 10 points off the bench, that was not enough for the Tar Heels to fend off a Yellow Jacket surge.
Following the 4-point play, UNC was met with the same aggressiveness. Rather than sagging off — as teams have been doing, according to Banghart — Georgia Tech’s Inés Noguero forced graduate guard Lexi Donarski to the right side of the court. She lost the ball. She threw her hands to her side in frustration.
Yellow Jacket ball.
To beat Georgia Tech, one thing became apparent for the Tar Heels: They would have to become uncomfortable and stop relying on their defense.
Unlike the defense, North Carolina struggles at the charity stripe, with its 64.3 clip ranked second-worst in the ACC. And during a one-possession game with 23 seconds on the clock, Kelly took the line in what became a test for the Tar Heels.