COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP)Deja Kelly had a go-ahead three-point play with 2 seconds left and No. 6 seed North Carolina hung on for a 61-59 win over 11th-seeded St. John’s in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.
The Tar Heels faced their first deficit of the game when Danielle Patterson sank a 3-pointer with 6:39 left to play.
The Red Storm led for the next four-plus minutes until Paulina Paris was fouled in transition and made the ensuing free throw to tie the game at 54.
The score tied twice in the final minute as Mimi Reid made a layup with 6 seconds left to knot the game at 58.
“This team has a lot of fight,” Reid said. “In those final minutes, we were just constantly pouring positivity into each other, letting each other know next play we got this.”
Kelly drove the left lane and made the free throw to complete the game-winning score. Patterson then was fouled after a timeout shooting a 3-pointer with just over a second left that gave the Red Storm one last chance.
She missed the first two free throws and made the third, ending any chance the Red Storm had to tie the game.
Kelly led North Carolina with 18 points on 7-of-16 shooting, Kennedy Todd-Williams finished with 14 points and Alyssa Ustby totaled 13. The Tar Heels shot 42.1% from the field.
“They call it survive and advance for a reason, and I think we survived that one,” North Carolina coach Courtney Banghart said. “Not sure it was the game that you all are going to want to press repeat and keep forever, but not sure that matters. We’re just glad to be out of here with a win.”
St. John’s began 1-of-14 from the field. The Red Storm trailed 12-3 but Jayla Everett scored five of her team-leading 17 points during a 7-0 run that brought them back late in the first quarter.
Patterson finished with 13 points and Reid had 10.
“We went down, we fought, just everything I love about the whole group,” St. John’s coach Joe Tartamella said. “It stinks. But at the end of the day, we didn’t make the last play that we needed to and they did
TAKE WHAT THEY GIVE YOU
Kelly shot a game-high 4-of-8 from the field and scored 10 points in the first half.
But up until the four-minute mark of the fourth quarter, she’d gone 1-of-5 in the second half and knew her jump shot wasn’t falling like it had before.
After St. John’s tied it at 58 and Kelly found herself with the ball as the last six seconds ticked off the clock, she turned to what she could rely on.
“I was really just thinking get to the rim,” Kelly said. “I knew if they gave me the pull up, I would have taken it but that wasn’t really falling for me in the second half so I knew in my head I was just like, ‘Get to the ground, take what they give you.’”
USTBY HITS 1K
Ustby surpassed 1,000 points in her career with a jump shot midway through the third quarter. She became the 40th member of the Tar Heels to reach the milestone.
WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH
North Carolina led for the first 31:17 of game time – until Patterson’s first 3-pointer tied the game at 46 points less than two minutes into the fourth quarter.
Patterson’s second 3-point shot with 6:39 left meant the Tar Heels would have their backs against the wall for the first time in the game.
One last 7-0 run, sparked by four points from Kelly, put North Carolina in position to take the winning shot in the final minute.
“They’ve just got enormous toughness,” Banghart said. “You walk away or you walk into it, and these guys just thankfully keep choosing to walk into it.”
St. John’s: The season ends for the Red Storm, who got off to the best start in program history under Big East Coach of the Year Tartamella by winning the first 13 games of the season.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels allowed St. John’s to shoot 38% although the Red Storm shot 57.9% in the second half. North Carolina has held opponents to 41.2% shooting or worse in four straight games.
North Carolina will play No. 3 Ohio State on Monday.
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