Chapel Hill, NC --- The Tar Heels took the court running through their traditional team warm-up, as the crowd slowly rolled into Carmichael for the season home opener. And, after a thrilling four quarters, the Tar Heels fell short in the last 1.2 seconds of the game, letting Gardner-Webb capture the 66-65 win on the road.
The Tar Heels came into the game playing aggressively, forcing a turnover in each of the Bulldogs' first two offensive possessions. Carolina's defensive dominance continued as N'Dea Bryant, and Hillary Summers managed to grab almost every defensive rebound that came their way.
The pair worked extremely well on offense together; two back-to-back assists from Bryant led to two good looks for Summers inside the paint. Carolina's early hustle, paired with Bryant's presence on the court—rebounding, hustling, and feeding the post players—is what helped the Tar Heels keep the lead in the first.
But, Gardner-Webb was quick to answer. Alexus Hill led the first half and scored four baskets for nine points, the first of which gave the Bulldogs some momentum after a relatively slow start. Tierra Huntsman, Olivia Parker and Aunesha Williams each contributed five, five and four points respectively, to help the Bulldogs finish the half with a 25-24 lead over Carolina.
Jamie Cherry led the Tar Heels in the first half with eight points, after taking a hard foul in the first quarter. Hillary Summers added her own six points, while Destinee Walker and Stephanie Watts each captured their own four points.
Going into the third, the Tar Heels looked unstoppable until Huntsman secured two baskets to get the Bulldogs back in the game. Stephanie Watts battled on the court to keep the Tar Heel lead, getting a steal and forcing a jump ball. A strong performance by Walker and Cherry in the third gave the Tar Heels a 15-point lead going into the fourth.
The Bulldogs quickly began to close the gap in the fourth quarter and scored the first three baskets of the quarter, closing the deficit to just seven points. With four minutes left in the game, and with the Bulldogs only down by two points, Carolina's starting freshman guard, Watts, fouled out of the game, sending Brown to the line.
Brown made both free throws, tying the game at 58, and a minute later Currie pulled Gardner-Webb into the lead at 60-58. Carolina quickly answered. Cherry brought the Tar Heels back into the lead after making two, two-point field goals. Parker was soon after fouled, and she went one-for-two at the line closing the gap to 62-61.
With 50 seconds left, the Bulldogs recaptured the lead when Hill made both of her free throws, after getting fouled by Walker, which took the score to 63-62. The Heels quickly brought the ball back down the floor, and Cherry took a shot from behind the 3-point line, but it was blocked with 35 seconds to go.
Chasing the ball down the court, Cherry captured her fourth foul, which brought Huntsman to the line and she increased the Bulldogs' lead to two points, going one-for-two from the line.
With eight seconds remaining, Cherry shot and made a three-pointer, giving the Tar Heels a one-point lead. However, the Bulldogs raced back down the floor looking to drive to the basket, and Brown found the opening. With one second left in the game, Brown captured the win for the Bulldogs with a successful layup.
Gardner-Webb celebrated the emotional victory, and the two teams shook hands—there was an obvious look of disappointment on the faces of the Tar Heels.
"We lost the game...we were up by 15 points to start the fourth, and we left shooters open," said Sylvia Hatchell, head coach of the Tar Heels. "We have things we can correct, and they played harder and smarter than we did down the stretch."
Hatchell recognized that their injured team definitely impacted the outcome of the game as only six Tar Heels saw the court. She believed that having Xylina McDaniel for this game could have led to a better outcome.
"We got lost on the last play," said Jamie Cherry, the leading scorer for UNC, who finished the game with 25 points. "We assumed she was going to get called for a backcourt."
Tar Heels sent the Bulldogs to the line nineteen times, and missed a lot of shots that they should have made, according to Hatchell, despite the fact that Summers, Walker, and Watts finished the game with 13, 11 and 10, respectively. In the end, the Tar Heels put the ball in the Bulldogs' hands, and Brown took advantage.
"When I got the ball, I was thinking get the win, and I saw an opening and went for it," said Candace Brown, who had the game-winning shot. "I knew I had to win, so I did what I had to do."
Brown led the Bulldogs with 17 points; Hill added her own fourteen, and Parker also had a strong showing with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Gardner-Webb Head Coach Rick Reeves was very proud of his team's performance and knew that this was a great win for the Bulldogs.
"Gardner-Webb is a good team," said Hatchell. "We need to learn from it and move on."
The Bulldogs host Montreat on Tuesday, November 17th at home, while the Tar Heels prep for a quick turnaround, as they get ready to host Oregon this Sunday, November 15th.