NCAA TournamentUNC 62, Michigan State 53

North Carolina women beat Michigan State 62-53 to advance to Sweet 16

CorrespondentMarch 25, 2014 

— Freshman Diamond DeShields had one of her best games when it mattered most.

DeShields poured in 24 points – 18 in the first half – and added 12 rebounds as No. 4 seed North Carolina topped No. 5 seed Michigan State 62-53 in the second round of the NCAA women’s tournament on Tuesday night at Carmichael Arena.

The Tar Heels (26-9), the only college basketball team from the Triangle whose season is still going, will play Sunday at Stanford against the winner of Tuesday’s late game between South Carolina and Oregon State. Defending NCAA champion and undefeated No. 1 Connecticut is the top seed in the regional.

UNC is still playing with veteran associate head coach Andrew Calder at the helm, as Sylvia Hatchell has been away from the bench all season – though constantly in contact with the team – as she undergoes treatment for leukemia.

DeShields, the most touted member of the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class coming into the season, finished with her season high in rebounds and her first double-double. Fellow freshman Allisha Gray added 10 points, while Latifah Coleman also had 10 for the Tar Heels, who do not have a senior on their roster.

“I know Coach Hatchell is extremely proud,” Calder said. “The players were outstanding. Diamond’s defense on their point guard just took them out of everything. She had 12 defensive rebounds, which we’re really impressed with. Allisha Gray got seven defensive rebounds. I just thought it was a Carolina performance we’re all very proud of and want to take to the next game.”

The Tar Heels had barely survived their first-round game at home with a 60-58 win over little Tennessee Martin, after Michigan State had crushed Mideastern Athletic Conference champion Hampton 91-61 in the opener.

Jasmine Hinds had 16 points and Tori Jankoska 14 for Michigan State (23-10).

“I think UT Martin poked a beehive there, and you know we got a bunch of swarming bees coming at us and the biggest one in the bunch was Diamond DeShields,” MSU coach Suzy Merchant said. “What an impressive freshman. She certainly deserves the National Freshman of the Year (award). I mean, she was a one-man wrecking crew in the first half and a very, very special talent.”

UNC shot 36.5 percent to the visitors’ 31.5. The Tar Heels won the rebound battle 41-40 and committed 24 turnovers to MSU’s 19.

UNC took a 4-2 lead on DeShields’ jumper with 17:37 left in the first half, the bucket starting a 10-0 run ending in a DeShields free throw at 15:08.

The Spartans’ closest approach after that was six points on two occasions later in the first half.

“(The UTM game) hurt my pride a little bit as an offensive threat being held to four points in the first half,” DeShields said. “That’s uncommon for me, and with what’s at stake this season I knew I couldn’t do that anymore. I told myself that wasn’t going to happen tonight. I took my time a little more in finding better shots.”

UNC put it away with a 15-0 run in the second half, with six Tar Heels scoring in the spree before Branndais Agee’s 3-pointer at 9:00 cut it to 57-34.

“At this point, being a freshman is not an excuse,” Gray said. “You’ve got to be smart as a player. It seems like we hadn’t played in a while (before Sunday), so we just had to get the little spider webs and cobwebs off of us.”

The Tar Heels, who won the 1994 NCAA title under Hatchell, are in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2011. They played in back-to-back Final Fours in 2006 and 2007.

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