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Kelly caps 15-point UNC comeback with game-winner from mid-range

The UNC Tar Heels won a thriller over the Boston College Eagles thanks to a Deja Kelly go-ahead shot with 9.3 seconds to go followed by a Deja Kelley steal on the ensuing inbound. Carlie Littlefield was also huge during a big comeback.

NCAA Womens Basketball: North Carolina at Syracuse
Deja Kelly was the hero for UNC on Sunday afternoon.
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Deja Kelly made the go-ahead mid-range jumper with 9.3 seconds remaining to complete a 15-point comeback and the No. 25 UNC Tar Heels held on to defeat the Boston College Eagles 76-73 in a thrilling ACC opener on Sunday afternoon at Conte Forum.

“What a battle,” said UNC head coach Courtney Banghart. “We know it’s hard to win on the road in the ACC, but holy moly, we had to go to Plan F I think, many times. ... But our guys just believe and they put their work where their mouth is. So it’s not a team that tries and hopes to win, it’s a team that finds a way.”

The Tar Heels (10-0, 1-0 ACC) faced their biggest deficit of 15 with 9:48 to play, but Carlie Littlefield was phenomenal down the stretch to help her team come back, going 7-of-7 from the free throw line in the final 6:46 and adding two layups for 11 points over that span. She finished with a game-high 22 points (9-of-9 from the stripe), while Kelly added 19 points, three assists and four steals.

Eva Hodgson, playing in her home area of New England, got the comeback started in earnest at 5:15 remaining with a 3-pointer that sparked a 9-0 UNC run. Littlefield made four straight free throws and Destiny Adams made a layup to account for the other six points on the run, which cut the Tar Heel deficit to two with 4:05 to go.

BC’s Cameron Swartz answered with the next five points and then, after two Hodgson free throws, assisted a Maria Gakdeng layup that put the Eagles up seven with 2:23 remaining.

UNC was forced to come back again and did so with an 8-0 run that featured five points from Littlefield and was capped by Kelly’s go-ahead bucket.

“I just saw an open lane, so I took it,” Kelly said. “And I had already hit a couple pull-ups in that spot throughout game, so I was really confident in it.”

BC was still in a decent position with 9.3 seconds left, but Kelly intercepted the ensuing inbound pass and was immediately fouled. She made both free throws and then Swartz missed a three to tie with one second left, allowing UNC to walk away victorious.

“It’s so much fun to play with DK,” Littlefield said. “(Coach) called the timeout, we were gonna get that one last shot and I looked at (Deja) and said ‘this is a bucket.’ And then she got fouled and I was like ‘these are buckets too.’ So I just have so much trust in her and I just love playing with her, she’s very special.”

“We knew that how we've been playing this whole season, which is connected and together, that as long as we kept doing that that we were gonna be fine,” Kelly said. “That was our main focus in the fourth quarter, was us staying together, playing together, defending together and all of the above. I think we did that really well towards the end.”

Hodgson finished with 15 points, six assists and four steals. Her key 3-pointer was one of only three treys for the Tar Heels in the contest. They missed 12 shots from beyond the arc after entering the game fifth in the nation in 3-point shooting at 41 percent.

BC (7-3, 0-1 ACC) dominated from the field (50.9 percent to 38.3 percent) and from distance (43.8 percent to 20 percent), but UNC attempted 18 more free throws and made 15 more. The Tar Heels also forced 27 turnovers and won points off turnovers 27-9.

In the second quarter, BC point guard Marnelle Garraud went on an individual 8-2 run against UNC that took the score from 21-19 Eagles to 29-21 Eagles. Garraud made her first four treys and finished 4-of-6 from deep.

BC would lead by seven at halftime and by at least five throughout the third. Its best player, Taylor Soule, played just four minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, but got the home crowd going with a 3-point play late in the third. That was followed by a Garraud three, which made it 60-47 Eagles entering the fourth.

Garraud ended up with 20 points, six rebounds, six assists and two steals. Swartz matched her in scoring and had five rebounds. Freshman forward/center Maria Gakdeng had a solid game with 11 points and seven boards and did a great job on UNC star Alyssa Ustby, especially early.

Ustby, who entered averaging 16.1 points per game, was held scoreless until 2:51 remaining in the first half. She scored five points before halftime and finished with seven.

BC fell just short of its first win over a ranked opponent since Jan. 30, 2010. It has losses to BU and VCU, both teams behind it in the NET rankings, but showed on Saturday that it can compete with great teams. UNC is actually No. 2 in the NET rankings.

“In the last quarter we played hard, we just looked tight and like we spent a quarter playing not to lose instead of being the aggressor and playing to win,” said BC head coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee. “We have a lot of positives to pull from the game, but there’s also a ton that we’re gonna grow and learn from. ... We’ve gotta learn how to put teams away.”