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Tar Heels’ season ends in heartbreaking 69-71 loss to the Buckeyes

Despite an incredible late rally, Carolina fell just short of a spot in the Sweet 16.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Kyle Robertson/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

On Selection Sunday, when then North Carolina women’s basketball team weren’t selected as a host for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, they were always going to be up against it somewhat. They ended up on the six line and got sent to Columbus with Ohio State hosting.

Potentially having to beat a tournament team on the road is always tough, but OSU was a especially unfortunate draw. The Buckeyes had spent part of the season ranked as high as #2, and ended up down on the #3 seed line thanks partly to injuries to some key players.

After getting off to a slow start, UNC found themselves the eight ball for most of the game. Every time they would make a run, the Buckeyes would answer with one of their own. In the fourth quarter, OSU opened on a run and took the lead out past double digits. Beyond that, UNC was down both Deja Kelly and Eva Hodgson with injuries.

However, there will be no questioning of this team’s heart. The Tar Heels battled all the way back, even taking the lead. Kelly even returned minutes after getting carried off the court, hitting a game-tying jumper with just seconds left.

Unfortunately, things were not meant to be. On the next possession, OSU’s Jacy Sheldon hit a shot of her own, putting the Bucks up two just under two seconds left. UNC’s final possession didn’t go as hoped, as Ohio State came away with a 71-69 win and a trip to the Sweet 16. It was a bittersweet ending to what has been an — at times — excellent Tar Heels’ season.

UNC got off to a less than ideal start, as a combination of six missed shots and three turnovers allowed the Buckeyes to get out to a quick 8-0 lead. The Tar Heels spent the rest of the quarter chipping away, and eventually got it to 16-14 after 10 minutes. Kelly was especially huge in the quarter, scoring eight of the 14 points.

However when the second quarter began, it quickly turned into a similar story. Carolina turned the ball over three times early on, and Ohio State quickly took the lead back out to eight points. After that, UNC managed to rally a bit and keep the game in the 5 to 7-point range, which wasn’t terrible considering the 11 first half turnovers.

The third quarter saw the Buckeyes take the lead out as far as 10 points, but as impressive fight back by the Heels saw them battle their way back into the game. After OSU had made it 41-31, Carolina went on a 12-4 run, forcing Ohio State into some turnovers of their own, and getting within a bucket for the first time since early in the second quarter. However, a Taylor Mikesell and-one to end the period left UNC right back in the same position going into the fourth: down five.

OSU then extended that run to start the fourth quarter, and opened up a 62-50 lead. Between that, and the injuries to Kelly and Hodgson, it seemed like that was it. However, Carolina furiously rallied, going on a 15-4 run to take the lead. Alyssa Utsby and Kennedy Todd-Williams led the way, coming to score 11 of the points in that period. Kelly returned towards the end of that run, as UNC improbably found themselves right back in it.

Alas, things didn’t work out in the end as Ohio State made just enough baskets to get over the line. A particularly frustrating moving screen call on Teonni Key with 23 seconds left didn’t help matters either. In the end, 18 turnovers were probably just a few too many.

Kelly led UNC with 22 points, while Utsby and Todd-Williams each went for 16. Utsby did her usual thing of filling up the statsheet all over, also finishing with nine rebounds, three assists, and two steals.

It was a disappointing end for the Tar Heels, but this program still appears to be on the rise and will be very exciting to follow in the years to come.