Tar Heels guard Brittany Rountree scored six of her total 17 points from the free throw line during the final 44 seconds of play to hold the Wolfpack back from staging an upset win as the two teams battled right to the end.
Teammates Walteia Rolle (16 points, 4 rebounds), Xylina McDaniel (11 points, 4 rebounds), and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt (9 points, 4 rebounds, 7 assists) supported North Carolina’s offensive efforts while Krista Gross (9 rebounds, 5 assists) and Danielle Butts (8 points, 6 rebounds) solidified the Tar Heels' play off the glass at both ends of the court.
“I have been coming over here 27 years and this is a typical Carolina-State game,” North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said afterwards.
“We knew it was going to be a battle. State played exceptionally well.”
The Wolfpack outrebounded the Tar Heels for the game (43-37) and had a 31-28 lead to begin the second half - a narrow margin that was contested aggressively by both teams - and one that changed hands seven times during the final 20 minutes of play.
Marissa Kastanek (20 points, 6 rebounds), Kody Burke (17 points, 8 rebounds), and Myisha Goodwin-Coleman (13 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists) found openings in the Tar Heels defense during the first four minutes of play and extended the Wolfpack lead to 38-28.
Not backing down, the Tar Heels figured out that the best way to score was to work the ball around the perimeter and then inside, separating the NC State defense, and eventually finding opportunities to score layups, short jumpers, and three pointers to get back into the game.
“They couldn’t really match up with us man-to-man so they went to a matchup zone,” said Ruffin-Pratt.
“Really, the only way to beat the matchup zone is to get into the middle, the heart of it. We were getting it there, and they were collapsing down and we were just kicking it to the shooters for three’s.”
After working to chip away at the Wolfpack's lead, the Tar Heels finally regained it on a layup from McDaniel, leading 54-53 with 5:56 to play.
As both teams’ defensive play continued to create turnovers at both ends of the court, the final minutes of the game provided some of the best action and excitement seen all season at any of the famed basketball arenas in the Triangle.
Trailing 60-59, Kastanek had the ball picked away from her by Butts, who pushed it up to Rountree, who then ran the length of the court to put the Tar Heels ahead by three points, 62-59 with just under two minutes to play.
Kastanek didn’t give up and converted on two free throws to narrow the score back to one point.
However, on the Tar Heels’ subsequent possession, Ruffin-Pratt dished a pass to Butts who scored and kept North Carolina ahead, 64-61 with 1:05 to play.
A critical 5-second violation and turnover on the inbounds by the Wolfpack along its own end line then gave the Tar Heels the ball back, forcing NC State to foul Rountree.
The Tar Heels guard extended the lead to five points, 66-61 with 44 seconds remaining.
From that point on, Rountree’s free throw performance and the Tar Heels’ tight defensive play were the keys to keeping the Wolfpack at bay for the remainder of the game.
“I think they outhustled us for probably at least 30 minutes of the 40,” Hatchell said.
“By then we got things going – our defense got going. This is pretty much how we’ve been all year.”