North Carolina's second-year women's basketball head coach Courtney Banghart said earlier this week that she needed more from her veterans after the Tar Heels lost their first two ACC games of the season.
Thursday night, UNC's seniors showed up in a big way, powering the Tar Heels to a dominant 92-68 upset win over No. 18 Syracuse at Carmichael Arena.
"I'm just so happy for this team," Banghart said. "We just had to grow. It's been a unique year for everybody since July."
Senior forward Janelle Bailey poured in 25 points and eight rebounds, while Illinois graduate transfer Petra Holesinska tallied 21 points off the bench. Stephanie Watts was held scoreless on six shots for the second straight game, but she chipped in eight boards and three assists while playing solid defense against a Syracuse team that can be potent.
"(Bailey) again gave us what we needed. So much of what happens for the older guys is in the locker room. They've gone through losing two games before and the younger guys haven't," Banghart said. "They've had great practices. They deserve this. I thought Petra played much better. They all really played much better."
The win for UNC marks its first this season over a ranked opponent. The Tar Heels' 92 points were also the most they've scored against an ACC opponent under Banghart. The victory snaps a 10-game losing streak for UNC against ACC opponents that dated back to last season.
UNC (6-2; 1-2 ACC) led the game start to finish. From the opening tip, the Tar Heels began the contest with a 14-3 run and never looked back. Syracuse (4-1; 1-1 ACC) was never able to trim UNC's lead back to single digits.
While the seniors played well, UNC also got a big boost from its freshmen, who combined for 46 points. Point guard Deja Kelly registered 22 points, eight assists and five rebounds, Alyssa Ustby had 10 points and Anya Poole grabbed 11 rebounds ― marking her third-straight game with double-digit boards.
Syracuse shot a season-low 29.3% from the floor and a poor 9-of-36 from three-point range. The Orange also had 13 turnovers to only five assists. They missed 13 free throws too.
Emily Engstler tallied 18 points and 10 rebounds for Syracuse, while freshman Kamilla Cardoso added 11 points and 13 boards, her first career double-double.
The Orange's star point guard, Tiana Mangakahia, was bottled up by UNC and held to just three points and one assist in 17 minutes of play. The preseason All-ACC selection and passing wizard suffered a foot injury last week.
"We played really well together. We shared the ball really well," Kelly said. "I think we guarded their guards pretty well and kind of forced them to make some tough shots."
UNC topped 50 rebounds in a single game for the fifth time this season, and had more than 20 assists for the third time.
The Tar Heels play again at home this Sunday, taking on Wake Forest, a team they just lost to by three points last Thursday.