**********Demon Deacons Spear Second-Round Win Over UNC***********
GREENSBORO, N.C. – This time, freshman Jewel Spear and her Wake Forest teammates refused to be denied.
Spear delivered the finest game of her young career on Thursday, tallying a career-high 29 points on 7-for-10 shooting from 3-point range while leading the ninth-seeded Demon Deacons to an 82-71 win over eighth-seeded North Carolina in the second round of the Atlantic Coast Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum.
The seven made 3-pointers tied an ACC Tournament single-game record as Wake Forest won its 126th game under Jen Hoover, making her the winningest head coach in program history.
The Deacons (12-11) advanced to Friday’s noon quarterfinal game against top-seeded Louisville (21-2). The Cardinals, then unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the nation, escaped Winston-Salem with a 65-63 victory in the teams’ regular-season meeting Jan. 24.
Thursday’s effort marked Spear’s second huge outing against UNC this season. The Colony, Texas, native scored 22 points on 6-for-12 shooting from 3-point range when the teams met in Chapel Hill on Dec. 20, but the Tar Heels fended off Wake for a 77-74 overtime victory.
Spear, who finished 10-for-15 from the floor overall, got plenty of help from her senior teammates on Thursday. Ivana Raca turned in her ninth double-double of the season with 21 points and 12 rebounds, while Gina Conti chipped in 13 points and a career-high 12 assists. The Deacons shot 53 percent from the floor (59 percent from 3-point range) and were 14-for-15 from the foul line.
The Tar Heels (13-10) got big days from freshmen of their own as Alyssa Utsby scored a career-high 23 points and pulled down nine rebounds, and classmate Deja Kelly added 19 points. But it ultimately wasn’t enough as Wake Forest pulled away in the closing minutes.
With Spear going 4-for-4 from beyond the arc and Raca connecting once from 3-point range, the Demon Deacons built a 25-16 lead by the end of the first quarter. Wake Forest shot 59 percent (10-for-17) in the first 10 minutes, including 5-for-7 from 3-point range.
Spear had 17 points by the halftime break, when Deacons led 39-34. Kelly led UNC with 11 first-half points, including nine straight midway through the second quarter to help the Tar Heels whittle a 14-point deficit to the five-point margin at the break.
With Stephanie Watts connecting on a key 3-pointer from the deep left corner and Utsby contributing several buckets off hustle plays, the Tar Heels charged from behind to lead 50-47 by the 2:20 mark of the third quarter.
But the Deacons closed the period on an 11-4 run to regain the upper hand at 58-54. UNC remained within striking range most of the fourth quarter and trailed just 67-65 when Stephanie Watts connected on a 3-pointer from the deep left corner with 5:25 remaining. But the Demon Deacons again closed out strong, with their 82 points matching their second-highest total of the season.
– Hoover, in her ninth year as head coach at Wake, surpassed the previous school-record of 125 wins first set by Mike Petersen, who led the program from 2005-12. Hoover joins Louisville’s Jeff Walz and Syracuse’s Quentin Hillsman as the only active ACC head coaches to be the all-time wins leaders at their respective schools.
– Four players had made seven 3-point shots in a single ACC Tournament game prior to Spear on Thursday, most recently UNC’s Brittany Rountree in the opening round versus Clemson in 2012. Wake Forest’s Janae Whiteside (1999 quarterfinals versus Virginia) originally set the record.
– Thursday’s game was UNC’s first at a neutral site this season.
– The Tar Heels and Demon Deacons met for the 83rd time. Though UNC holds a 65-18 series lead, the Demon Deacons have won four of the last five meetings. The teams split a pair of games during the 2020-21 regular season with the two meetings coming within a 10-day span (Dec. 10 and 20).