NEWARK, DEL. – Behind 30 points from Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, third-seeded North Carolina posted a 59-54 win over 14th-seeded UAlbany in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball tournament on Sunday afternoon at the Bob Carpenter Center on the campus of the University of Delaware. After a valiant effort by the America East Champion Great Danes against the Tarheels of the Atlantic Coast Conference, the team ends its season with a 27-4 record. UNC advances to the second round to face the host Blue Hens on Tuesday.
North Carolina got on the board first with two free throws and a bucket from Ruffin-Pratt. The Tarheels extended their run to 6-0 before UAlbany got on the board with a 3-pointer from Lindsey Lowrie at 16:37. However, UNC responded with a triple of its own by Brittany Rountree, to give the Tarheels a 9-3 advantage at the first media timeout of the half. A second trey by Lowrie and a defensive stop by the Great Danes cut the UNC lead to 11-8 with 11:51 to play in the first half.
Ebone Henry tied the game at 13-13 with a 3-pointer at 8:34, and followed that up with a steal on the defensive end. Megan Craig gave UAlbany its first lead of the game with a bucket at 7:45, but the Tarheels responded with an and-one at the other end by Xylina McDaniel to regain a one-point advantage. Shereesha Richards made one-of-two free throws, but Julie Forster came down with the offensive rebound and Richards hit a layup to put UAlbany on top by two, 18-16, with 6:18 to play in the first half. Forster then sank both halves of a 1-and-1 to push the Great Dane lead to four, and UAlbany forced UNC into back-to-back turnovers. Sarah Royals took to the charity stripe at 4:34, draining both, putting the Great Danes up, 22-16, on the Tarheels. After another made free throw by Royals, Ruffin-Pratt ended the UAlbany run with a 3-pointer at the top of the arc, cutting the UAlbany lead to 23-19 by the last media timeout of the first half at 3:16.
Ruffin-Pratt cut the game to one, 23-22, but missed the additional free throw, and a foul on the Tarheels put Richards on the line with 1:54 to play. Richards nailed both shots to push the UAlbany lead to 25-22, but UNC’s Megan Buckland hit one from the charity stripe to pull back within two. A technical foul on the Tarheels sent Lowrie to the line, where she drained two. With 18.5 seconds to go, Richards converted 1-of-2 from the line, and the Great Dane defense forced another UNC turnover, setting the halftime score at 28-23 in UAlbany’s favor.
Henry started the second half off with a bang, draining a 3-pointer from the far side. However, the Great Dane defense started having a hard time controlling UNC’s Waltiea Rolle under the basket, as the 6-foot-6 center scored six of the Tarheels’ first 11 points of the second half. UNC cut the UAlbany lead to 39-36 at the first media timeout at 14:17. A trey from Lowrie pushed the Great Dane lead to 42-36, but the Tarheels responded immediately, gunning to the opposite end of the court for a layup by Rountree. UNC tied the game at 42-42 with a 3-pointer by Ruffin-Pratt with 11:12 to go, but Craig responded with a bucket to put UAlbany back on top. After another tying basket by UNC, Richards hit 1-of-2 from the free throw line to give the Great Danes a one-point, 45-44, advantage. UAlbany forced UNC into a shot-clock violation and Royals dished the ball to Henry under the basket, where she was fouled on a made layup and hit the free throw to put the Great Danes back on top, 48-44, with 9:40 to play.
Ruffin-Pratt gave UNC its first lead since the first half with a 3-pointer at 6:35, putting the Tarheels ahead, 49-48. She then hit two free throws to push the lead to 51-48, but two free throws by Henry cut the lead back to one with just over five minutes to play. As the time ticked down to the under-four minute media timeout, UNC held a one-point, 53-52, lead, and had possession coming out of the TO. The Tarheels extended their lead to four, 56-52, but an offensive rebound and put-back by Craig kept it a two-point game with just over a minute to play. Ruffin-Pratt iced the game for the Tarheels at the line, hitting two from the charity stripe with 11 seconds to go to set the final score.
“That was pretty amazing, huh?” said UAlbany head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson, who guided her team to 19 straight wins, including just the seventh undefeated league slate in conference history. “We came. There is no way I would let these women be scared of anything. I am proud of them.”
UAlbany shot 27.9-percent (17-61) from the field – their second-lowest shooting percentage of the season – while still holding UNC to 34.5-percent (19-55) shooting. However, the Great Danes held a slight, 44-43, rebounding advantage, and assisted 14-of-17 baskets, while the Tarheels managed just eight assists on 19 made shots.
The loss marks the end of an era for UAlbany women’s basketball, as the team will graduate seniors Ebone Henry, Julie Forster, Lindsey Lowrie, and Keyana Williams, all of whom have left indelible marks on the Great Dane program. Henry wraps up her career as the program’s all-time leading scorer with 1,635 points, while also being ranked fourth in career rebounds with 759. Forster became the first women’s player to ever record 1,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds, and ends her tenure with a program-leading 1,149 boards.
“When we look back on this, we will not look back on this loss,” stated Abrahamson-Henderson. “They [the seniors] are the ones that changed this program. These young women made the difference.”