The North Carolina Tar Heels muscled their way to a 57-54 victory over the visiting Ohio State Buckeyes during their ACC/Big Ten Challenge match-up played in front of a crowd of 2,765 at Carmichael Arena in Chapel Hill, N.C. on Wednesday.
Guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt (11 points, 4 rebounds, 5 steals, 4 assists) single-handedly finalized the victory during the last minute of play as the #22 Tar Heels trailed the #15 Buckeyes at the time, 54-53.
On two separate Ohio State possessions, Ruffin-Pratt stole the ball and ran the distance of the court to score layups to regain the lead and then to extend it to three points, the eventual game-winning margin.
North Carolina held off the Buckeyes for the remaining 27 seconds of the game and secured the win to extend its record to a perfect 7-0.
“We’re happy with the win,” Tar Heels head coach Sylvia Hatchell said afterwards.
“We knew that they were going to be really tough.”
Coming into the game, the all-time series between both teams was even at three apiece, and they had not played against one another since 2008.
Right from the opening tip, it was a fast-paced and physical game that included many large scoring runs and defensive adjustments from both teams.
As a result, neither could get into a consistent shooting rhythm with the Tar Heels converting 38 percent of their shots from the field while the Buckeyes connected on 34 percent of theirs.
“I thought it was sort of an uneven game,” said Ohio State head coach Jim Foster.
“Neither team got into an offensive flow.”
The Tar Heels scored first and the Buckeyes followed suit as both teams would exchange the lead 14 times throughout the game.
By the end of the half, North Carolina held a 29-25 lead riding on a strong first half from center Waltiea Rolle (11 points, 5 rebounds, 5 blocks) and guard Brittany Rountree (9 points, 2 rebounds, 2 steals).
Making it a game
During the second half, it seemed as though North Carolina would run away with the contest by turning up its defensive intensity and creating opportunities for Ruffin-Pratt and forward Xylina McDaniel (11 points, 8 rebounds) to go to work.
McDaniel scored the first points of the half as a result of a Ruffin-Pratt steal, an occurrence that would be repeated throughout the half.
After making a 17-5 run to extend its lead to 46-30, the largest margin that either team held, North Carolina hit a wall.
“We played well at times, and then we had a spell there where we sort of fell apart and let them take the lead back,” Hatchell said.
Losing the lead
The Buckeyes, led by guard Tayler Hill, went on their own 18-1 run that caught the Tar Heels off-guard.
“We switched up so much stuff on defense,” Hatchell continued.
“They took advantage of our mismatches.”
By the time everyone in the arena realized it, the score was tied 50-50 with just under three minutes to play.
“We kept switchin’ stuff, and they kept switchin’ stuff,” Hatchell said.
Foster concurred with Hatchell in how his team adjusted to come back like it did.
“We started to change defenses and rebound the ball a bit better,” he said.
“Once we got into a rhythm of being able to change the defenses and getting some rebounds, that got us an opportunity to get down the floor and got us some looks early.”
Pulling from within
When asked how much adrenaline was going through her body during the latter part of the second half, Ruffin-Pratt simply stated: “A lot.”
The Tar Heels defense scored many points off turnovers and steals, 27 in total for the game, and that is what made the difference to end it.
“We’re really strong and in shape, so we’re just wearing a lot of teams down,” Ruffin-Pratt said.
“They’re getting tired at the end and we’re still going – we’ve still got the energy to keep going.”
Hatchell admitted that her strategy to pressure the ball was the right decision in the end, particularly after what Ohio State came up with to counter the Tar Heels’ defense.
“At the end, I gambled because we went back to our trap,” she said.
“I wasn’t going to let them run their stuff, so we went back to our traps and it paid off.”
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