CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — As tough as Alyssa Thomas has been to stop through the years, the rest of the ACC might not be too sad to see her leave.
She gave No. 8 Maryland a strong start to its farewell tour through the ACC on Sunday, finishing with 21 points and 14 rebounds in a 79-70 win over No. 10 North Carolina in the league opener.
“For our seniors, it’s our last year in general but this being (Maryland’s) last year in the ACC, we want to go out with a bang,” Thomas said.
Shatori Walker-Kimbrough added 16 points while Katie Rutan had 14 points and four 3-pointers.
Thomas — a senior and two-time ACC player of the year — polished off her 13th consecutive double-double to help the Terps (13-1, 1-0 ACC) win their 11th straight.
“I thought, obviously, A.T. was A.T,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said of Thomas.
Big Ten-bound Maryland led for all but about 90 seconds of this one but let much of an 18-point lead slip away before holding on to win its toughest test since a 72-55 loss to No. 1 Connecticut two months ago.
Stephanie Mavunga scored 15 points, Latifah Coleman had 13 and Diamond DeShields finished with 12 for the Tar Heels (12-3, 0-1).
With Hall of Fame coach Sylvia Hatchell watching from a sideline television platform for the second straight game, UNC had its seven-game win streak snapped.
Hatchell, who has been out all year while she receives treatment for leukemia, addressed the crowd at halftime and urged those in attendance to join the national donor registry.
DeShields, the team’s leading scorer who missed the James Madison win three days earlier with a left hand injury, was 3 of 13 from the field while playing with a wrap on her hand.
“Every player gets nicked up. Something you have to play through,” DeShields said. “I was a little timid at first but I started to let it go. There’s nothing to be worried about. … It’ll be fine.”
North Carolina cut its deficit to six with 7 minutes left on Mavunga’s layup that made it 61-55.
Thomas followed with second-chance buckets on consecutive trips downcourt and the Tar Heels — who went without a field goal for 3 crucial minutes down the stretch — didn’t get closer than seven in the final 5 minutes.
“We didn’t lose our composure,” Frese said. “We knew they’d make runs. … It was great that we had a buffer in terms of the lead, and I thought A.T. imposed her will. She was not going to let us be denied, and she showed it by getting on the glass, making big plays.”
That came after Rutan helped Maryland build its huge lead midway through the half. She hit 3s roughly 20 seconds apart to push the lead to 50-37 with about 16 1/2 minutes left.
She added another one about a minute later, Thomas followed with a jumper and Rutan hit a layup in transition that made it 57-39 with 13 1/2 minutes remaining.
“With the amount of time that was on the clock, either we were going to let them keep doing that and lose by a large margin, or we had to tighten up,” DeShields said. “That’s plenty of time to score 18 points.”
North Carolina then started its comeback by reeling off nine straight points, with Brittany Rountree’s layup with 11 1/2 minutes left making it 57-48.
Lexie Brown had 12 points — including five free throws in the final 1:09 — for the Terps, who finished 20 of 23 from the foul line. Maryland, which leads the nation with a plus-17 rebounding margin, was outrebounded 47-43.
The Terps led 40-31 at the break behind 13 points from Walker-Kimbrough and 11 from Thomas, who passed Vicky Bullett at No. 4 on the school’s career scoring list with a jumper with 7 minutes before the break.
The Terps took their first double-figure lead when Lauren Mincy’s 3-pointer about 30 seconds into the second half made it 43-31.
Coleman, who scored a career-high 17 points against the Terrapins in the ACC tournament last March, scored six straight points during an 8-0 run that she capped with a 3-pointer that gave the Tar Heels their only lead at 17-16 with just under 12 minutes left in the first half.
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