Tar Heels Surge Past Terps
Backup point guard Coleman leads the way in 14-point comeback win
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Backup point guard Latifah Coleman, running the offense with starter Tierra Ruffin-Pratt sick and in foul trouble, scored 15 of her career-high 17 points in the final 6:04 to lead third-seeded North Carolina to the second-biggest halftime comeback in ACC Tournament history on Saturday, a 72-65 win over No. 2 Maryland in which the Tar Heels trailed by 14 at the break.
“We shipped her in from Mars this morning,” North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell opined after her team earned a spot in the championship game for the 15th time in the past 20 years.
Coleman, for her part, had no objection to the extraterrestrial explanation. Bugged by a quadriceps injury this season, she scored 34 points in all of February.
The comeback, as measured by halftime deficit overcome in victory, is surpassed in ACC Tournament history only by Duke in the 1995 semifinals against Virginia. The Blue Devils trailed 40-20 at the break that day and won 83-82 in overtime.
North Carolina did most of the heavy lifting in its comeback early in the second half with an 18-3 run. The Heels then failed on three chances to tie, and the Terrapins increased the lead back to seven shortly after Ruffin-Pratt picked up her fourth foul with 10:25 to play.
The Heels needed a heroine, and when Coleman drilled a 3-point field goal with 6:04 to play, the game was even at 52. And a trend had been established.
“Coach told me to be a leader,” she said. “I hit that first 3-pointer, got in a rhythm and didn’t stop from there.”
She then put her team up 54-53 – its first lead since the opening minutes – and delivered a runner down the lane with 3:44 to play to stretch the lead to four. The Terrapins’ Alyssa Thomas, who fell three assists short of another triple-double after getting one on Friday, made it 62-61 with two minutes left.
The Terrapins, in need of a stop, couldn’t halt the suddenly resurgent and confident Coleman, who hit again with 1:48 to play.
“She caught fire,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. “We tried to switch up on her. We put Katie Rutan, our best defender, on her. Then we went with (Thomas) for size.”
The Heels then forced turnovers to secure the victory and their eighth ACC title game appearance against Duke in the Greensboro Coliseum’s 14-year history as the event’s host.
Hatchell declined to specify the tenor of her halftime speech to her team but suggested it was impassioned.
“A lot of it was about pride, about playing for each other, about intensity,” she said.
Coleman clearly carved out her own spot in tournament lore, but her teammates weren’t entirely shocked.
“It’s something we see often, but she showed you all a glimpse of what she can do,” Ruffin-Pratt said.