CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – As time ticked down in the second half of the first-round game between North Carolina and Tennessee-Martin, one could almost hear the sound of television sets across the country switching over to watch the game in Carmichael arena. One signature North Carolina run later, however, the Tar Heels were 60-58 winners while the Skyhawks were left to wonder what might have been.
UT-Martin had roared into halftime with a 35-22 lead, playing a style they were unfamiliar with, but deemed necessary by coach Kevin McMillan. Instead of the normal up-tempo, attacking style of offense the Skyhawks normally employ, they instituted a slower tempo to keep the athletic Tar Heels in check.
“We press and we run and we shoot it quick,” McMillan said. “For these kids to buy into changing that for this basketball game was absolutely unbelievable.
The Skyhawks executed their slowdown tactics to near perfection in the first half, holding North Carolina to 30.8 percent shooting from the field. Deshields, who did not start for the Tar Heels following a technical foul earned in last week’s ACC Tournament, was 0-4 from the floor while fellow freshman Allisha Gray had just five points at the half.
Asked if they were surprised by the UT-Martin team on the floor compared to the one they’d seen watching tape, Xylina McDaniel (14 points, 9 rebounds) said, “They definitely didn’t press us as much. Deshields added, “They didn’t send as many people to the boards. They were sure to get back on defense so we couldn’t run our transition offense.”
The second half started with a delay for a scoreboard malfunction, which required arena personnel to lower the scoreboard to the floor for repair. After another break for the teams to get warm again, the Skyhawks ran a perfectly executed back door play for Heather Butler (19 points) to stretch the lead to 15 and further whiten the knuckles of the Tar Heel fans in attendance.
North Carolina trimmed the lead to nine before UT-Martin made a 10-1 run to give the Skyhawks their biggest lead of the afternoon.
What happened next will be talked about in Chapel Hill for quite a while: The Tar Heels dropped a 26-3 run on the shocked Skyhawks, including a shot by McDaniel as she lay on the Carmichael Arena floor.
“To be honest, I was not thinking. I was just so wide-open, I guess. I was just so close to the basket. It’s just one of those things that happened, I guess.”
To their credit, UT-Martin punched back after the Tar Heel’s onslaught. Two free throws by Elizabeth Masengil quickly got the lead back down to three, and after a Deshields turnover Jasmine Newsome hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 58 with 1:15 remaining.
McDaniel then gave the Heels the lead for good with 53 seconds remaining. The Heels had a chance to ice the game with 27 seconds left, but Latifah Coleman missed both, giving the Skyhawks one last chance. Karisma Tyson’s three was off the mark, however, setting the stage for Tuesday’s second-round matchup between the Tar Heels and fifth-seeded Michigan State. The Spartans advanced earlier in the afternoon with a 91-61 shellacking of Hampton.
The Tar Heels were led by 15 points from DeShields and 14 from McDaniel. North Carolina’s comeback was spurred on by second-chance points (20) as they dominated the glass, 41-30.
Butler finished with 19 for the Skyhawks in a losing effort, aided by 18 points for Ashia Jones.