CHAPEL HILL – Freshman Diamond DeShields had 24 points and a season-high 12 rebounds to help North Carolina beat Michigan State, 62-53, on Tuesday night in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Fellow rookie Allisha Gray added 10 points for the fourth-seeded Tar Heels (26-9), who led by nine at halftime then dominated the opening minutes of the second half to turn the game into a rout.
North Carolina ran off 14 straight points to blow the game open, with DeShields scoring twice during that flurry to build a 57-31 lead with 11½ minutes remaining that allowed the Tar Heels to coast to the Stanford Regional’s round of 16.
The Tar Heels pressured the fifth-seeded Spartans (23-10) and turned the game into the up-and-down pace they wanted. They finished with a 17-4 edge in fast-break points and 15 points off turnovers in a huge improvement from their first-round struggles against UT Martin.
The Tar Heels had reached the regional semifinals just once in the past five seasons, losing in the second round last year and missing the tournament in 2012. Now, they’re heading west for the Sweet 16 on Sunday.
Jasmine Hines matched her season high with 16 points while Tori Jankoska had 14 for the Spartans, who just couldn’t keep up with DeShields andUNC.
The Spartans shot just 32 percent in the first half to trail 36-27, and then went 1 for 16 to start the second half, including a 9½-minute stretch of 15 straight misses, to watch the Tar Heels speed out of sight.
Redshirt freshman Aerial Powers, who had a huge performance in the first-round win against Hampton, struggled all day and finished with two points on 0-for-5 shooting for Michigan State.The teams entered Tuesday’s game coming off very different first-round games. Michigan State dominated Hampton to win by 30 points, with Powers going for 26 points and setting a program tournament record with 18 rebounds.
North Carolina, meanwhile, had to rally from 18 down after halftime to beat UT Martin 60-58.
DeShields struggled to a 3-for-12 shooting day in that one, including going the first half without a basket before scoring 13 points during the game-turning run. She said her biggest takeaway from her first tournament game was simply “getting it out of the way” and overcoming her nerves.
She didn’t look nervous Tuesday night, finishing 9-for-17 from the field in 35 minutes. She also set the ACC single-season freshman scoring record, blowing past Georgia Tech’s Kaela Davis, who ended year with 594 points.
North Carolina shot 37 percent and cooled off after building its huge lead, while Michigan State finished the game shooting 32 percent.