CHAPEL HILL — Even with her broken finger, Diamond DeShields is a tough player to stop.
North Carolina’s freshman guard led all scorers with 21 points and also grabbed nine rebounds as the No. 13 Tar Heels held off gritty No. 20 N.C. State 79-70 at Carmichael Arena on Thursday night.
Xylina McDaniel, the sophomore who is the only non-freshman starter for North Carolina (13-3, 1-1 ACC), finished with 15 points, while point guard Jessica Washington chipped in 10.
Seniors Markeisha Gatling had 18 points for the Wolfpack (14-2, 1-1), Kody Burke 16 and Myisha Goodwin-Coleman 14. Junior Krystal Barrett added 11.
“N.C. State played extremely hard,” said North Carolina assistant Andrew Calder, who continues to run the team on the sideline as coach Sylvia Hatchell, who was in an upstairs media box for the fourth straight game, undergoes treatment for leukemia. “They’re very talented and super well-coached and they’re going to have a big year.
“But we believe that our team will eventually wear everybody down. And Diamond is a very, very difficult matchup with great basketball intelligence.”
The loss ended the Wolfpack’s eight-game winning streak, State’s longest since the 2000-01 season.
“We just dug too big a hole,” N.C. State first-year coach Wes Moore said. “You just can’t afford to have a stretch like we had (late) in the first half. But I’m proud of the way we fought back. It would have been real easy to say ‘That’s it, let it go,’ but we really competed.”
UNC shot 50.9 percent to 39.4 for N.C. State and won the rebound battle 38-32.
The Tar Heels led 45-29 at halftime behind 14 points from DeShields.
“I think it was effort and our willingness to do whatever Coach was telling us to do,” said DeShields, playing with a broken ring finger on her left hand suffered in the opening minutes of the easy win against High Point on Dec. 21. “We let our defense create our offense.”
N.C. State came out fast, scoring the game’s first seven points and making it 19-9 on a 3-pointer from Goodwin-Coleman at 12:45.
“I told the freshmen to keep their heads up when we got down,” McDaniel said. “That comes with playing basketball. You may not always start off strong, but you have to keep pushing through that.”
North Carolina stormed back in a big way, taking the lead for good on a DeShields layup that made it 28-26 at 4:39. That came in the middle of a 24-2 run before Miah Spencer hit the first of two free throws for the Wolfpack with 3.9 seconds left in the half.
“In the ACC you really can’t be tired,” said Burke, who played 37 minutes. “You have to have a fight in you no matter how many minutes you play.”
N.C. State kept fighting in the second half, scoring the first eight points to cut it to 45-37. UNC’s biggest lead after halftime was 60-44 on a Latifah Coleman field goal at 12:17.
The Wolfpack trimmed the lead to 75-70 on a Gatling layup from Burke at 1:04, but Coleman was 4-for-6 from the free-throw line over the final 51 seconds.
“After they had that lead at halftime, I knew I had to get some points on the board if we were going to have a chance to win,” Gatling said. “I came out harder.”
The rematch will be Feb. 16 at Reynolds Coliseum in the Wolfpack’s annual “Hoops 4 Hope” game.
The Wolfpack leads the series 51-46, but N.C. State’s last win in the series was an 88-72 home-court decision Feb. 20, 2011. N.C. State’s last win in Chapel Hill was a 74-63 result Feb. 21, 2010.
UNC’s next game is Sunday at Florida State, while the Wolfpack travels to Wake Forest that day.