GREENSBORO — Deja Kelly knew what UNC’s 68-58 win over Clemson in Greensboro on Thursday meant.
“I’m ready,” she said. “That’s all I’ve got to say. Round three. We’re ready.”
The win earned the No. 7 seed Tar Heels a third game against archrival Duke, who drew the No. 2 seed, courtesy of UNC. The Heels upset the Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium last Sunday in the regular season finale, costing Duke first place in the ACC. The Tar Heels swept the two-game regular season series with Duke this year.
“My prep is going to be easier,” said UNC coach Courtney Banghart. “I’m going to sleep a little bit longer. We know them well, and they haven’t played since the last time we played them. We hadn’t seen Clemson since January. We had to feel them out. We should both have a better sense of the flow of the game.”
The Tar Heels had things flowing on Thursday. Eva Hodgson, in her third game back after missing more than a month with an injury, hit three shots from 3-point range in a three-minute span early in the first quarter to put Carolina up early. UNC never looked back.
“It felt great,” Hodgson said. “The past few games, I’ve been a little off. My teammates found me, and I was hitting.” Hodgson finished with 13 points and four assists.
It also sparked her teammates, who hit 5 of 9 from 3 in the first quarter and 11 of 17 in the first half as UNC built an eight-point halftime lead.
“It was important for us as a team to find Eva on the floor and get her easy shots, especially when they’re playing zone,” said Kelly, who had 14 points on the night. “We got excited when we saw the ball go in the basket for her, and it was lights out since then. It opened up the floor for us.”
With Hodgson back as well as Alyssa Ustby, who was also in her third game back after missing three weeks with an injury, UNC had a full contingent of players.
The absences also gave Banghart a chance to play bench players such as Destiny Adams, who contributed nine points and five rebounds.
“We’re finally healthy,” said Banghart. “I think we needed to get our feet settled. … I’d like to be healthy all the time, but this just gives me more options at a really important time in our season.”
The Tar Heels’ defense also came up big, forcing 23 Clemson turnovers, including 16 in the first half.
“That’s the glaring thing,” said Clemson coach Amanda Butler. “We obviously had a lot of conversations about that, and that was the problem when we played them the first time. Just too many turnovers in the first half and fought back and didn’t do that in the second half, but again, just gave them a lead by giving them extra possessions that they capitalized on.”
The newly healthy Tar Heels were able to capitalize on Clemson’s mistakes and give Banghart her first career win in the ACC Tournament.
“This time of the year, you just win one and move along,” she said. “We won one, and we’re moving along.”
And a familiar obstacle now looms in front of them.