The eleventh-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels outlasted the twentieth-ranked Florida State Seminoles to earn a 72-62 victory in front of 2,876 in attendance at Carmichael Arena in Chapel Hill, N.C. on Thursday.
The Tar Heels have now won 20 games this season, the fastest they have reached that mark by the end of January since the 2006-2007 season when they reached the NCAA Tournament Final Four.
For North Carolina head coach Sylvia Hatchell, the win put her at 899 career victories while marking the twenty-ninth time her teams have won at least 20 games during her 38 years of coaching.
“A great game,” Hatchell said afterwards.
“Florida State is a really great team. We’re happy for the win.”
Fast start, big lead
It looked as though the Tar Heels would run away with the game early on, taking a commanding 21-8 lead, eight minutes into the first half of play.
North Carolina led by as many as 19 points during the half, fueled by the performances of forward Waltiea Rolle, (18 points, 10 rebounds), and guard Brittany Rountree (12 points, 2 assists, 2 steals).
After the first 12 minutes of play, the Tar Heels were shooting at an incredible 74 percent success rate from the field (14-19), while the Seminoles tried to keep up by converting on 41 percent of their shots.
In dealing with Carolina’s aggressive defense that resulted in 15 points scored off their turnovers, the Seminoles gradually managed to chip away at the Tar Heels’ lead.
After losing one of its top point-producing forwards in Chastity Clayton due to an ankle injury, Florida State went on a 12-2 run that ended the first half and continued into the early minutes of the second.
Forward Natasha Howard (12 points, 11 rebounds) kickstarted the Seminoles’ comeback until guards Leonor Rodriguez (18 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists) and Alexa Deluzio (16 points, 7 rebounds) matched her efforts to narrow the substantial lead that Carolina held.
It was a successful three-point shot from Deluzio with 9:01 to play in the game that gave Florida State its first lead of the night at 53-52.
“They did what they do well in the first half, and I thought we did what we do well in the second half,” Florida State head coach Sue Semrau said.
“Certainly, it was a tale of two halves – injury and foul trouble really hurt us down the stretch, but credit Carolina for their toughness.”
Make room for Zee
After scoring only four points during the first half, North Carolina forward Xylina McDaniel scored 15 of her career-high 19 points after halftime to hold off the Seminoles for the remainder of the game.
Rolle and Krista Gross, who finished with a game-high 13 rebounds, scored on consecutive possessions at the 8:18 mark to reclaim the Tar Heels’ lead back to a three-point differential, but Deluzio answered back quickly with another basket.
“We’ve been practicing rebounds a lot,” Rolle said.
“Krista just went for it.”
With support coming off the defensive glass to push the ball up the floor, McDaniel took over for the next five minutes and outscored Florida State 10-2 on her own to push the Tar Heels lead up to eight points, 66-58, with 2:45 left to play.
“Honestly, I don’t know what came over me,” McDaniel said.
“I feed off of my teammates. If one of us is down, then someone has to pick up the slack. So when I was down, Waltiea was picking up the slack, and when someone else is down, I have to pick it up somehow.”
Going to the line
As the Seminoles attempted to continue to chip away at North Carolina’s lead once again, the Tar Heels managed to keep their distance.
“From the beginning ‘till now, we have really gotten better and we’re going to continue to get better,” Hatchell said.
“We’ve got a lot of tough teams coming up and we’re going to get ready to play Duke here on Sunday.”