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With the come-from-behind win, the Orange improved to 16-5 overall and 5-3 in conference play.
Defensive intensity along with superior athleticism proved too much for the visiting team to handle early on in the contest as UNC established a 46-32 halftime lead, but the Orange settled in and built confidence when outside shots started to fall in the second half, eventually overtaking Carolina and never looking back. The poise of the youthful Tar Heels was challenged down the stretch, and some sloppy turnovers doomed their chances at a victory.
Diamond DeShields led the Tar Heels in scoring with 21 points, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the sharpshooting of Syracuse’s Brittney Sykes and Brianna Butler, who posted 17 and 22 points respectively.
After the game, Assistant coach Ivory Latta stressed the importance of moving on and having a short-term memory with a tough game against Miami on tap for Sunday.
***Listen to Assistant Coach Ivory Latta’s postgame remarks***
Syracuse won the opening tip and scored the first points of the game to shoot out to a 4-0 lead. The first basket for North Carolina was thanks to Allisha Gray. DeShields followed those points up with a make of her own to close the Carolina within two at 6-4.
The Orange continued to shoot lights out early on, but Gray’s outside three-pointer closed the gap to 9-7 with 17:26 to play in the first half.
With 15:50 remaining on the first half clock, it was the visiting team in orange that held the 9-8 edge in an entertaining, up-tempo style game.
DeShields dropped in a fast break opportunity to keep the Tar Heels on pace with the Orange. Xylina McDaniel scored her first basket of the game to give UNC its largest lead of the game at 4 points. With 11:54 to play, Carolina held a 15-11 lead.
Danielle Butts grabbed a contested rebound and put back the shot to increase the UNC advantage midway through the first half of play. The fast pace of play was feeding right into the hands of the Tar Heels as they built a 21-13 lead with 9:48 on the clock.
It was the defensive intensity of the Tar Heels that was doing the damage, and the Carolina offense remained efficient by building a 27-13 advantage at the 8:08 first half mark with superior athleticism.
Stephanie Mavunga was running the floor with ease, earning easy layups to further extend the UNC advantage in Carmichael Arena. The lead sat at 31-16 with just over six minutes to go in the opening half.
Butts jumped up to seven points on the night with a make from outside the three-point line to ignite the crowd. The Orange were providing little resistance to the Tar Heel attack as Gray darted inside for a powerful layup.
The offensive explosion continued, and with under four minutes to play in the half, Carolina posted a 40-22 advantage.
At the half, the Tar Heels had amassed a 46-32 lead.
DeShields wasted no time to score for the Tar Heels with a smooth make to continue the momentum right out of the second half gates. Syracuse responded with a a couple timely three-pointers to hang around. Carolina held on to a 52-40 lead with 16:51 left to play in the game.
A 54-42 advantage at the 15:41 mark was reduced by a three-point bucket by Syracuse’s Rachel Coffey, who had a hot hand on the night.
The dynamic play of Gray continued to be put on display with good court awareness to grab a pass by Mavunga and score. Syracuse’s Brianna Butler knocked down a shot from behind the arc to trim the Carolina lead further. The intensity and effort from the Orange was ratcheting up midway through the second half. The lead was down to a mere six points with 9:28 to go in the game.
The first points of the game by Latifah Coleman couldn’t have come at a better time as the Tar Heels maintained a four-point advantage with under seven minutes to play. The game had turned into a nailbiter with both teams scrambling for control with the game locked up at 65 points.
DeShields broke the tie with a clutch jump shot, but Butler replied with a make on the other end of the floor to knot the game back up with 3:30 to play in the contest. Mavunga came up with a massive defensive block that DeShields then turned into a layup on the offensive end. The Tar Heels took the 69-67 lead with 3:11 to play, but a technical foul was called on Mavunga.
Butler nailed a massive three-pointer with one second remaining on the shot clock to stake her team out to a three-point advantage that Syracuse used to claim the come from behind victory against the stunned Tar Heels.