TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (seminoles.com) – With two of their prominent frontcourt players in foul trouble, the No. 18/17 Florida State women’s basketball team tried to hang onto its lead but ultimately fell to No. 13/12 North Carolina, 65-61, on Sunday afternoon at the Donald L. Tucker Center.
Playing with a lead for most of the ballgame, the Seminoles (14-2, 2-1) were in trouble when senior All-America candidate Natasha Howard was whistled for her fourth foul just 2:04 into the second half with a 40-34 lead. The ‘Noles hung tough for a while, but an inside bucket by UNC’s Xylina McDaniel with 8:33 left tied the game at 50-50, and the Tar Heels (14-3, 2-1) would close out the game from there.
“It was disappointing,” FSU head coach Sue Semrau said. “I felt like we had opportunities, but at the same time I am proud of my team. I wouldn’t trade one of them for the world. For them to come out and play as hard as they did without the senior leadership of Natasha Howard for as long as they did, I’m just very impressed with who they are. Now I think they know that they can play regardless of who’s off the floor.”
A couple free throws by McDaniel with 7:49 left gave UNC a 52-50 lead that it would not relinquish. Despite Florida State leading for roughly 25 minutes of the game, the Tar Heels seized their opportunity to exploit Florida State with two of their top rebounders in Howard and Ivey Slaughter each playing with four fouls late. Howard’s foul trouble gave her just 13 minutes of playing time.
The game’s biggest shot came following a timeout from the Tar Heels. Redshirt sophomore Morgan Jones of FSU hit an important 3-pointer with 3:34 left to cut FSU’s deficit to 60-56. However, UNC junior guard Brittany Rountree’s dagger 3-pointer from the wing with 2:15 left extended the Tar Heel lead to 63-56 and proved too much to overcome.
Jones did her best to be the focal point of the offense on Sunday, dropping 18 points including three buckets from long range. The Lake Mary, Fla., native added five rebounds and was 5-of-5 from the free throw line. Jones now has 35 3-pointers this season and is just six away from ranking in FSU’s top 20 for single-season 3’s.
Florida State continued its streak of not allowing teams to reach 70 points or more, with UNC tying its season-low with 65 points. The Tar Heels entered the game averaging 86.7 points and beating their opponents by a scoring margin of +24.7 per game.
Freshman guard Diamond DeShields’ had the best performance by an FSU opponent this season, registering a game-high 25 points on 9-of-15 shooting, including 4-of-6 from long range. The Norcross, Ga., native carried UNC in the second half as it outscored Florida State, 36-25, in the latter period and cut its turnovers down.
“That’s I think maybe the best thing that happened,” Semrau added. “Credit Diamond DeShields for having a really good second half. She turned it on and made it really tough on us in the second half.”
For the first time since facing Michigan State on Dec. 4, the ‘Noles lost the rebounding edge, 43-42. Slaughter nearly had another double-double with nine points and 10 rebounds.
FSU was dealt a blow in the second half when Howard was whistled for two more fouls in the first three minutes, totaling four to send her to the bench. But the ‘Noles used strong efforts from Cheetah Delgado and Jones to pick up the slack, using a layup by Slaughter in transition off a slick pass from Delgado to go ahead 42-34.
Playing without Howard, who was out early with two fouls, did not hurt the ‘Noles too much as it led UNC 36-29 at halftime. Jones led FSU with 10 points while Emiah Bingley stepped up her game off the bench with eight points. The ‘Noles forced 12 UNC turnovers and scored 17 points off those miscues in the first half.
Howard started off the game with an offensive out-back to give FSU an early 2-0 advantage, and Jones swished her first 3-pointer from straightaway give put the ‘Noles ahead 5-2. UNC’s Stephanie Mavunga gave the Tar Heels a good presence inside as she scored four points prior to the first media timeout as UNC led 8-7 with 15:25 left in the first half.
The style of play became quite physical as FSU held a 14-11 advantage with 11:35 left. Freshman Brittany Brown was on a breakaway layup slicing down the right-hand side when UNC’s Danielle Butts gave her a clean and hard foul to send her to the floor, highlighting the aggressive nature. Brown would make one of two to create the three-point lead for the ‘Noles.
FSU had a 9-0 run that helped it take a 25-16 with 7:11 remaining. The Tar Heels committed nine turnovers in the game’s first 13 minutes, and Bingley’s 3-pointer from the corner punctuated a dominant period for FSU. However, UNC would fight right back with an 8-0 run to the 4:06 mark to trail just 28-24, getting a few buckets in transition as freshman Stephanie Mavunga finished one on the fast break to cut the FSU lead.
The ‘Noles are back on the road for two consecutive games as they take on No. 20/23 NC State on Thursday, Jan. 16, at 7 p.m. FSU follows with a matchup at Virginia on Sunday, Jan. 19, at 2 p.m.
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