Gray leads No. 6 North Carolina to 85-67 victory
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (AP) No. 6 North Carolina is seeking consistency and coach Sylvia Hatchell hopes the Tar Heels find it soon.
Allisha Gray scored 20 points, Stephanie Mavunga had her third double-double this season and the Tar Heels (11-1) used a strong second half to top Elon 85-67 at the Carolinas Challenge on Sunday. But it was the second straight game at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center that North Carolina found itself in a dogfight at halftime before pulling away.
The Tar Heels led Maine 24-21 early in the second half Friday night before winning 65-36. This time, the Phoenix cut an 18-point first-half deficit to 46-43 at the break, then used a dominant second half to win.
It didn't cost North Carolina in its latest trip to the Grand Strand, but Hatchell understands that inconsistent play will hurt once Atlantic Coast Conference play starts in two weeks.
''We've just got to be consistent,'' Hatchell said. ''We play good, then we kind of relax, sputter a little bit. Then we took off.''
The Tar Heels used a 23-8 run to start the second half to put away Elon, coached by former North Carolina star and NCAA tournament star Charlotte Smith.
Mavunga, who had 10 points and 11 rebounds, started the Tar Heels' decisive charge with a putback. Xylina McDaniel followed with a jumper and Gray hit a 3-pointer to give them a 53-43 lead. Mavunga had two more baskets in the run and when Brittany Rountree made her third 3 of the game, North Carolina was up 69-51 with 12:02 left.
Rountree said the team's eight-day break before its next game will give players the chance to regroup for ACC opponents. ''Coming back with a fresh new start, that's helpful,'' she said.
Sam Coffer had 16 points to lead Elon (5-4), which has lost four of its last five games.
Latifah Coleman had 15 points and McDaniel 14 for North Carolina.
Lauren Brown had 15 points and Malaya Johnson 10 for the Phoenix. Elon scoring leader Zora Stephenson, averaging 13 points a game coming in, was held scoreless and missed all six of her 3-point tries.
Smith is only one of two North Carolina players to have her jersey retired and is fourth in Tar Heels total points and second in total rebounds. She spent from 2002-11 as one of Hatchell's top assistants until leaving for Elon four seasons ago.
Hatchell and Smith hugged when the game ended.
''When we cross lines, we're enemies,'' Smith said with a smile. ''But they all know we love them.''
North Carolina opened up a 32-14 lead before Elon struck with runs of 16-3 and 10-3 over the final nine minutes to trail 46-43 at half. Hatchell said her team's defense was out of synch early and Elon shot 61.5 percent (16 of 26) in the period.
''We stepped up our defense after that,'' she said.
North Carolina has played in the Palmetto State's seaside resort area for 21 straight seasons. It'll be 22 a year from now as Hatchell said the Tar Heels have a game scheduled with Southern Miss and are looking for a second contest.
DEFENSIVE TAR HEELS
North Carolina forced 54 turnovers in its two games in Myrtle Beach this weekend. Maine surrendered the ball 26 times while Elon gave it up 28 times. The Tar Heels ended the weekend with 25 combined steals, McDaniel and Coleman leading the way with five thefts apiece.
Hatchell said it's wait and see for starter Xylina McDaniel after she left the game in the second half with an injury in the area of her right ankle. The coach was worried the junior hurt her Achilles, but won't know until the McDaniels is examined.
Elon: The Phoenix hadn't faced a ranked opponent in 13 years since losing to then-No. 4 Duke 102-52 at Cameron Indoor Stadium in November 2001. Elon is 0-8 all time against opponents in the Top 25.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels are 30-6 in games along the Grand Strand.
Elon returns home to face Furman on Dec. 29
North Carolina is back at home for its next game with Albany on Dec. 30.