North Carolina holds off St. John’s 61-59 in March Madness


COLUMBUS, Ohio — Deja Kelly had a green three-pointer with 2 seconds left and No. 6 North Carolina went ahead in the first round of the NCAA tournament for a 61-59 win over St. John’s with 11. seeds through saturday.

The Tar Heels faced their first deficit of the game when Danielle Patterson pocketed a 3-pointer with 6:39 left.

The Red Storm led for the next more than four minutes until Paulina Paris was fouled on the transition and took the subsequent free throw to keep the game at 54.

There were two ties in the last minute when Mimi Reid made a layup with 6 seconds left to end the game at 58.

“This team is struggling a lot,” Reid said. “These last few minutes we’ve been keeping each other positive all the time and letting each other know we’ve got that next game.”

Kelly drove to the left lane and took the free throw to complete the game-winning score. Patterson was then fouled after a time out when he shot a 3-pointer with just over a second left, giving the Red Storm one last chance.

She missed the first two free throws and made the third, ending every chance Red Storm had to level the game.

Kelly led North Carolina with 18 points in 7-of-16 shooting, Kennedy Todd-Williams finished with 14 points and Alyssa Ustby with 13 points overall. The Tar Heels shot 42.1% from the field.

“They call it surviving and advancing for a reason, and I think we survived that,” said North Carolina coach Courtney Banghart. “I’m not sure it was the game you all want to hit replay and keep forever, but I’m not sure that matters. We’re just happy to get out of here with a win.”

St. John’s started 1-of-14 from the field. The Red Storm trailed 3-12, but Jayla Everett scored five of her leading 17 points during a 7-0 run that brought her back late in the first quarter.

Patterson finished with 13 points and Reid had 10.

“We went down, we fought, everything I love about the whole group,” said St. John’s coach Joe Tartamella. “It stinks. But at the end of the day we didn’t make the last game we needed and they did it

Kelly blasted a game-high 4-of-8 from the field and scored 10 points in the first half.

But by the four-minute mark of the fourth quarter, she was going 1 of 5 in the second half and knew her jump shot wasn’t going to come off like it had before.

After St. John’s equalized at 58 and Kelly found herself in possession with the last six seconds, she turned to what she could count on.

“I was really just thinking about getting to the edge,” Kelly said. “I knew if they gave me the pull-up I would have taken it, but I didn’t really like that in the second half, so I knew in my head I was just like, ‘Get on the floor, grab what they give you.'”

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 this milestone.


North Carolina led for the first 31:17 of the game – until Patterson’s first 3-pointer tied the game for 46 points less than two minutes into the fourth quarter.

Patterson’s second 3-point shot at 6:39 left meant the Tar Heels would have their backs to the wall for the first time in the game.

A final 7-0 run, sparked by four points from Kelly, put North Carolina in a position to grab the winning goal in the last minute.

“They just have tremendous toughness,” Banghart said. “You walk out or you walk in, and luckily these guys keep choosing to walk in.”

St. John’s: The season ends for the Red Storm, who got off to the best start in program history by winning the first 13 games of the season under Big East Coach of the Year Tartamella.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels allowed St. John’s to shoot 38% despite the Red Storm’s 57.9% in the second half. North Carolina has kept opponents at 41.2% shooting or worse in four straight games.

North Carolina plays No. 3 Ohio State on Monday.


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