Tar Heels come from 18 back to win a crazy one against UT Martin

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UNC players celebrate after their 18-point comeback. (L-R) Diamond DeShields, Danielle Butts, Allisha Gray, Stephanie Mavunga, Latifah Coleman, Jessica Washington.
  • Photo courtesy Orin Day/ACCWBB Digest
  • UNC players celebrate after their 18-point comeback. (L-R) Diamond DeShields, Danielle Butts, Allisha Gray, Stephanie Mavunga, Latifah Coleman, Jessica Washington.
CARMICHAEL ARENA/CHAPEL HILL UNC takes the floor in the NCAA Tournament for the 25th time, this time starting it without Sylvia Hatchell on the sidelines.

The coach has been battling leukemia all season and was hoping to be on the bench to start the tournament, but she isn’t quite ready.

So veteran associate head coach Andrew Calder will direct the freshman-laden Tar Heels, who are ranked No. 12 in the country and boasting a 24-9 record without a senior on the roster.

UNC takes a No. 4 seed into its tournament opener against No. 13 seed Tennessee Martin (24-7), which comes in on a seven-game win streak after winning the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament.

The word “wild” gets used far too often by sportscasters, but this time it fits.

The Tar Heels survive a campus-wide lone-nut alert, a scoreboard malfunction that delays the start of the second half and an 18-point deficit with under 11 minutes to play and somehow eke out a 60-58 win to deny the Skyhawks an historic upset.

Diamond DeShields scores over UTM’s Heather Butler.
  • Photo courtesy Orin Day/ACCWBB Digest
  • Diamond DeShields scores over UTM’s Heather Butler.
Diamond DeShields scores 13 of her 15 points after the Skyhawks’ lead 50-32 on an Ashia Jones field goal with 10:51 to play, while Xylina McDaniel chips in 14 and deflects the visitors’ final 3-point attempt.

Senior Heather Butler leads UTM with 19 points including a trio of 3-pointers to tie the NCAA career record with 392, while Jones chips in 18.

The momentum switch seems to come during a sequence with 8:59 to go, when the Tar Heels’ Brittany Rountree hits a pair of free throws after being fouled by Tiara Caldwell and a “flagrant one” foul against Caldwell whose arm hits DeShields under the chin. DeShields hits both free throws to cut the margin to 50-39, scoring a conventional three-point play at 8:38 to cut the margin to single digits for the first time in over seven minutes.

Later, UNC finally goes ahead at 54-53 on a Brittany Rountree 3-pointer at 3:28, followed by a short field goal from McDaniel who shoots while sitting on her backside at 2:43.

Jasmine Newsome’s 3-pointer with 1:15 left ties it at 58-58 for UTM, and McDaniel gets the final points on a follow shot with 53 seconds left. UNC’s Latifah Coleman misses a pair of free throws to set up the final play, on which Danielle Butts grabs the final rebound after McDaniel gets a piece of Karisma Tyson’s shot.

They said it …
Calder: “We just continue to fight. We tell them, ‘Fight! Play for each other!’ and we continue to battle. … We finally got going in the second half, and we’re hoping that carries over to Tuesday night.”

UTM coach Kevin McMillan: “Basically, if the game was an athletic, physical game we were going to get killed. So what we tried to do was slow it down and try to make them think a little bit to do some things. I thought they turned up their defensive pressure at the start of the second half, and I thought they really got after us. They were much more aggressive in the second half.”

DeShields: “There are certain things that you can definitely control, and I feel like a free throw is one of them. A free throw is a free shot. There’s no defense. I just feel like if you want to get yourself going, you’ve got to be able to do it on the free-throw line if that’s where your opportunities are presenting themselves.”

McDaniel: “To be honest, I was not thinking (on the seated shot.) I was trying to go back and think ‘Why would you even do that? But I don’t know. I was just so wide open, I guess. I was just so close to the basket.”

Stars of the game

1. DeShields.
2. McDaniel.
3. Butler.

Play of the game

McDaniel’s shot from her seat on the floor.

Series record
UNC leads 4-0.

Streaks
UNC: Won 1.
UT Martin: Lost 1.

Up next
UNC vs. Michigan State, Tuesday, 7 p.m.

Xylina McDaniel prepares to hit a key shot as UTM’s Heather Butler watches.
  • Photo courtesy Orin Day/ACCWBB Digest
  • Xylina McDaniel prepares to hit a key shot as UTM’s Heather Butler watches.

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