Jamie Cherry is making a habit of rescuing North Carolina with last-second shots in the postseason.
The freshman guard swished a 15-footer with less than a second remaining Monday night to lift the fourth-seeded Tar Heels to an 86-84 victory over fifth-seeded Ohio State in the second round of the NCAA women's basketball tournament at Carmichael Arena.
Cherry's game-winner sends the Tar Heels (26-8) to the regional semifinals, where they will play No. 1 seed South Carolina (32-2) on Friday night at the Greensboro Coliseum.
Second-seeded Florida State and either third-seeded Arizona State or 11th seed Arkansas-Little Rock will play in the other side of the regional bracket.
UNC frittered away a 23-point second-half lead, twice allowing Ohio State (24-11) to tie in the final minute, the second time on two free throws by Kelsey Mitchell, the nation's leading scorer, with 5.1 seconds left.
But Cherry, who re-entered the game as a sub for the final play, knew what to do. “Get down the court and get a great shot up,” said Cherry, who finished with seven points. “That was my mindset, because I know I'm quick. Don't settle for a long shot – get down as far as I could.”
UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell took a timeout between Mitchell's free throws. “I told them what to do as far as 5.1 seconds on the clock. I said you've got plenty of time, one dribble per second, to come down and get a good shot. I put Jamie in there to sub for N'dea Bryant. I'm so glad I did.”
Cherry made a similar shot in the ACC tournament against Louisville, forcing overtime with a 3-pointer in a game the Tar Heels would eventually lose. She said Brittany Rountree instructed her to go wide and get the inbounds pass, and no Ohio State defender slowed her as she raced upcourt.
“Nobody stopped me,” Cherry said. “We were all celebrating (after the shot). I didn't realize there was .6 seconds left on the clock. Luckily (Mitchell) dribbled the time off the clock” before launching an errant 3-pointer from halfcourt that wouldn't have counted anyway.
For most of the night, it didn't look like last-second heroics would be necessary. UNC raced to a 50-32 halftime lead, matching its season high for a first half, as 6-foot-3 sophomore forward Stephanie Mavunga powered her way to 18 of her career-high 27 points in the half. She also grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked four shots. Allisha Gray added 20 points for UNC, and Rountree had 15 on 5-of-7 shooting from 3-point range.
“Once I saw single coverage, I thought I'm about to have a clinic here,” Mavunga said. “Coach Hatchell told me, 'Nobody on their team can stop you.'”
However, Ohio State double-teamed Mavunga more often in the second half, when the Tar Heels hurt themselves by committing 14 of their 16 turnovers.
The Buckeyes' backcourt tandem of Mitchell and Ameryst Alston also heated up. Alston scored a game-high 30, and Mitchell hit for 21 of her 25 in the second half, including three 3-pointers that gave her an NCAA season-record 127. Her last one tied the score at 82 with 40 seconds left, capping a 9-0 run.
After Mitchell made her free throws to offset Latifah Coleman's jumper and knot the score for the final time at 84, the stage was set for Cherry.