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No. 24 UNC women's basketball falls to No. 5 N.C. State on the road, 63-59

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UNC senior guard Deja Kelly (25) communicates with her teammates at the women’s basketball game versus N.C. State on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024 in the William Neal Reynolds Coliseum.

RALEIGH — In a physical rivalry matchup, the No. 24 North Carolina women’s basketball team (15-7, 6-3 ACC) lost 63-59 to No. 5 N.C. State (19-2, 7-2 ACC), at Reynolds Coliseum on Thursday night. 

After a poor first half shooting performance, which saw the Tar Heels shoot 0-7 from beyond the arc and just 12-31 from the field, North Carolina was unable to complete the second half comeback despite changes in the defensive game plan and a strong third quarter from senior guard Deja Kelly.

North Carolina jumped out to a quick 4-2 lead, with both junior center Maria Gakdeng and senior forward Alyssa Ustby finishing in the paint. Gakdeng then made her presence felt on the defensive end, blocking N.C State’s River Baldwin, which was quickly followed with an Ustby block of her own on the next defensive possession. 

The majority of the first quarter featured defensive physicality, with both North Carolina and N.C. State forcing the other to make tough shots and fight for rebounds. 

However, the Wolfpack were able to open the game up, and took a 15-10 lead before Ustby found a cutting sophomore guard  Indya Nivar for a quick jumper to cut the N.C. State lead to three. A 3-pointer by senior guard Deja Kelly was off the mark as the first quarter buzzer sounded, with the Tar Heels down 15-12.

To start the second quarter, the Wolfpack went on a quick 4-0 run to extend the lead to seven. Meanwhile, the Tar Heels went cold on the offensive end, starting 0-3 from the field. However, UNC answered with a 6-0 run, propelled by a jumper from graduate guard Lexi Donarski and two finishes at the rim by Gakdeng. 

The Tar Heels were then able to tie the game at 22, but the Wolfpack quickly answered and took a 28-22 lead, holding North Carolina scoreless for nearly four minutes. A 3-pointer from the Wolfpack’s Mimi Collins gave N.C State a 31-24 lead at halftime.  

N.C. State started the second half just like they ended the first, scoring a quick five points with UNC still struggling to find its shot. However, Kelly scored the Tar Heels’ first 10 points of the half and appeared to have found her rhythm on the offensive end. 

Quick drives by both Nivar and Ustby cut the Wolfpack lead to just one, but N.C. State was able to answer with a jumper and two free throws to extend its lead to 45-40. Donarski then hit her first three of the night, keeping the Tar Heels within a bucket. 

Kelly went on a tear in the third quarter, scoring 15 of the Tar Heels’ 24 points, helping the Tar Heels get within one, 49-48, entering the fourth quarter.   

The Tar Heels took the lead early in the fourth quarter, 50-49, after a runner from Donarski following Kelly’s exit after a hard foul. However, the lead didn’t last long, as a jumper from Collins extended the Wolfpack lead to six, prompting a timeout by UNC head coach Courtney Banghart. 

First-year guard Reniya Kelly scored five straight points late in the fourth quarter and helped UNC cut into the Wolfpack lead. Despite stifling the N.C. State offense late in the fourth quarter, the Tar Heels squandered multiple fast break opportunities and committed a foul with a chance to tie, and eventually fell 63-59 to the Wolfpack. 

The Tar Heels next face off against No. 17 Virginia Tech on Sunday in Carmichael Arena. Tip-off is slated for noon. 

@mdmaynard74

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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