UNC outlasts Rutgers in double overtime
After 50 minutes on the Louis Brown Athletic Center hardwood, a thrilling rollercoaster ride finally came to an end.
It had the constant lead changes. It had the large deficits followed by unpredictable comebacks. It had the surging energy of passionate play backed by an electric crowd.
But when the scoreboard hit all zeros, the No. 18 Rutgers women’s basketball came out on the wrong side, letting a prime opportunity to make a statement against No. 6 North Carolina in a battle of the unbeatens slip away.
The Scarlet Knights (6-1) faltered in heartache Thursday night, falling to the Tar Heels (8-0), 96-93, in double-overtime to snap the nation’s longest winning streak at 12 games dating back to last season.
“I would be very upset if we thought of ourselves as anything less than a capable Final Four team — and we need to know that,” said head coach C. Vivian Stringer. “With a [team] like [North Carolina], [the game] comes down to a foul shot, a decision that’s made, a rebound. It comes down to those things. But I’m extremely proud of the warrior mentality.”
A record-breaking performance by Betnijah Laney still wasn’t enough for Rutgers.
The senior wing recorded her seventh-straight double-double of the season, surpassed 1,000 points for her career and shattered the program single-game record for rebounds with 24 points and 24 boards.
Despite the remarkable series of feats, the ending left a bittersweet taste to sit with Laney.
“I was willing to do whatever it took for us to win,” Laney said. “We fell a little short with the outcome, but I was just determined to do whatever it took.”
At first, the Tar Heels buried the Knights in an 11-point hole early on in the game. Rutgers struggled mightily to convert from any space on the floor, opening without a made basket throughout their first nine shots from the field.
But then the Knights got the wheels turning.
Backed by its trademark defense and speed, Rutgers surged back with a 33-18 run to end the half. Laney recorded her double-double with less than three minutes remaining in the first half, aided by a balanced scoring attack where six other Knights were on the board.
“We just remained calm. We stayed together as a team,” said junior wing Kahleah Copper, who had 17 points. “Even when I came off the floor, [the team] just continued to play together and everyone who came off the bench just brought their energy.”
When the second half came around, Stringer’s squad kicked it up a notch.
Rutgers jumped out and seized the momentum in the second half, running all over North Carolina for 14 of its 29 transition points for a 60-48 advantage — its largest of the game — with less than 10 minutes remaining in regulation.
But as much as the Knights appeared to have finally begun to run away with the ballgame, the Tar Heels furiously clawed their way right back down the stretch to a 71-71 tie.
Holding the ball for the last shot, sophomore guard Tyler Scaife isolated her way to the basket and threw up a floater that caromed off the glass and softly rolled off the front of the rim to send the battle into overtime.
Despite the miss, Scaife continued to attack. She dropped a career-high 25 points and five assists on the night.
The only better scorer on the floor that night was clad in blue.
Allisha Gray practically put her team on her back with a double-double of her own after a game-high 29 points to go with 11 rebounds.
Gray and the Tar Heels began to heat up in overtime, leading 80-75 and seeming to pull away with the game.
But Syessence Davis had other plans.
After missing two free throws near the end of regulation that would have locked up a win, the senior guard scored the final five points for Rutgers in the first overtime to knot the game up at 83 apiece and keep the Knights alive.
Throughout the night and for the second game in a row, Davis ignited the spark off the bench with 15 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and four steals.
But that luck didn’t stay constant in the final five minutes.
After a back-and-forth from both teams tied the score up at 88, the Tar Heels went on an 8-2 run and, despite some gritty fight by the Knights, North Carolina ultimately went on to win the battle and stun the crowd.
Rankings and results aside, Stringer enjoyed what she saw out of her team.
“It doesn’t really matter,” Stringer said of where Rutgers is ranked. “I’m driven. My fuel comes strictly from last year because I know and they know that we were ready … and that we were hurt about not being invited to the NCAAs. We’re not going to let anybody doubt, again, that because we brought all of the players back, so I don’t think it really matters. It’s where we end.”
For updates on the Rutgers women’s basketball team, follow @GarrettStepien and @TargumSports on Twitter.