RALEIGH — North Carolina women's basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell read the box score aloud to her team at half-time, urging anyone who dared to provide a spark for the No. 14-ranked Tar Heels after a less-than-remarkable first half against rival N.C. State on Monday.
Hatchell called out UNC junior guard Italee Lucas, who at half-time was 0-for-5 from the field with five points. The team's leading scorer answered her coach's call, scoring 28 of her 33 points in the second half, leading the Heels to a 81-69 come-from-behind victory over the Wolfpack at Reynolds Coliseum.
Lucas scored the most points of any UNC player since Ivory Latta finished with 33 against Old Dominion in 2005. When her team needed a scoring punch, she came alive and accounted for 16 of the Heels' 20 points during one key stretch that helped reel in State.
The Heels (16-3, 4-1 ACC) trailed by nine points with 11 minutes remaining as State (12-8, 2-3) took a 51-42 lead on a 3-pointer by sophomore guard Emili Tasler. But the Heels erased that lead on the strength of Lucas, who ignited a sleepy offense with fade-away 3-pointers and reverse layups. The Heels surged from behind and took their own nine-point lead late in the second half and held on down the stretch.
Hatchell's half-time reproach hit a discordant note with Lucas and she switched on her offense. "When the game's on the line you have to have to hit that switch automatically," she said. "Knowing your teammates are depending on you, you have to get going."
As Lucas got going, so did the Heels. They made 28 of 35 free throws, including 20 consecutive during their second half rally.
UNC senior guard Cetera DeGraffenreid added 16 points and four assists, while sophomore Laura Broomfield grabbed a career-high 16 boards, helping the Heels outrebound their opponents 56-43 in a game that was fast and physical.
UNC freshman center Waltiea Rolle contributed 12 points, eight rebounds and a career-high seven blocks in 20 minutes.
The Heels are now 40-49 all-time against State, including a 12-26 record inside Reynolds Coliseum. The Tar Heels have won 18 of the past 20 contest against their rivals.
"This was a big win for us," said Hatchell, whose team gets a week off before a week of games against Florida State, Miami and Duke.
It was a disappointing outcome for a State team that started the game with such promise. Yet the Pack never found consistent scoring, finishing with a 31.2 shooting percentage from the field.
State junior forward Brittany Strachan scored a team-high 16 points, while sophomore forward Bonae Holston and junior forward Tia Bell both added 12 points.
State has struggled this season to win close games, losing six contest by six or less points and a combined 23 points. The Pack has won two games by two points.
A 3-pointer by freshman Marissa Kastanek pulled the Pack to 73-69 with 38 seconds remaining, but coach Kellie Harper said her team panicked during UNC's second-half run. She said her team was not mentally tough enough during that stretch, failing to adjust on Lucas.
Harper, participating in her first State-Carolina rivalry game, said the Pack was unable to keep the ball out of her hands or trap her or physically deter her on screens.
"We started the game with a lot of poise," Harper said. "When things were going well we maintained that poise. When things weren't going so well, when they were making their run, that's when you need it the most. That's when you have to be at your best mentally and your toughest. We weren't."
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