CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Talk about putting a "cherry" on top a victory. No. 4 seed North Carolina had an 18-point lead at halftime of the Tar Heels' second-round game against No. 5 Ohio State. But given the way the Buckeyes can score a lot of points quickly -- and the way the Tar Heels can sometimes play too fast and loose for their own good -- you just had a feeling that this one would still come down to the wire.
And it did.
After Ohio State's freshman star Kelsey Mitchell hit two free throws to tie the game 84-84 with 5.1 seconds left, it was North Carolina freshman guard Jamie Cherry's turn.
Cherry hit a jump shot with 1 second left, and the Tar Heels were able to celebrate a nerve-wracking ending to a game marked by individual runs by both teams' standout scorers. North Carolina 86, Ohio State 84. Whew, what a finish.
"We had a rough start, and Carolina had a lot to do with that," Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff said. "The way we fought and scratched and clawed to come back says a lot. In the end, they made a big shot, and credit to them."
Key stat: After getting pounded on the boards in their NCAA first-round game by a taller Liberty team, the Tar Heels won the rebounding battle 45-34 against Ohio State. Those second chances proved important.
Turning point: With 7:46 left in the game, Mitchell hit a driving shot and the whistle blew. If it was a foul on North Carolina, the Buckeyes had a chance to cut the Tar Heels' lead to seven. Instead, it was a charge call against Mitchell, her third foul of the game. Then Allisha Gray scored on the other end for North Carolina. The Buckeyes eventually were still able to tie the score, but that sequence delayed their charge just long enough to help North Carolina hold on.
Key player: North Carolina post player Stephanie Mavunga had 27 points, 14 rebounds and four blocked shots. She did a lot of her damage in the first half, but the cushion she helped the Tar Heels build was crucial to them hanging on by a thread to win this one.
How it was won: The Tar Heels can thank their strong start to the game -- and Ohio State not being as sharp -- for getting them through this tough test.
What's next: North Carolina faces No. 1 seed South Carolina in the Greensboro Regional semifinals on Friday. Last year, the teams had the same seedings as they do this year, and the Tar Heels upset the Gamecocks 65-58.