COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Jacy Sheldon made a tiebreaking jumper in the lane with 1.8 seconds left to lift No. 3 Ohio State to a 71-69 win over No. 6 seed North Carolina on Monday and help the Buckeyes advance to the Sweet 16 for the second straight season.
With the game tied, Sheldon took the pass from Eboni Walker and floated in the game-winning score. North Carolina had one final chance, but turned it over with a second remaining.
“Eboni did a great job,” Sheldon said. “It didn’t go as planned and she made a great play there, and that’s what led to that bucket. So I think keeping our composure in that situation was huge, keeping possession of the ball. And that was all Eboni.”
Ohio State (27-7) saw its 12-point lead with 7:02 to go erased as the Tar Heels went on a 13-2 run midway through the fourth quarter. The Tar Heels did most of that run without star Deja Kelly, who exited midway through the final quarter with a leg injury. She went to the locker room, but returned to the court a short time later.
Trailing 66-63, Kelly made two free throws before Paulina Paris made a layup in transition to give the Tar Heels (22-11) its first lead of the game with 2:09 left.
Sheldon scored to give the Buckeyes the lead back with 1:07 left. She added a free throw 29 seconds later to make it a two-point game.
Kelly, who finished with 22 points to lead North Carolina, hit a jumper to tie the game at 69 with 9 seconds left.
“I asked them to be what they have been all year, which is a group of fighters,” North Carolina coach Courtney Banghart said. “We asked them to be hard to beat, and we thought those things would get us to a Sweet 16. They did all of those things, right, but you got to be so good to win in March, so good, and we just were not quite good enough.”
Ohio State led the entirety of the first half, including by as many as nine points in the first quarter, on 46% shooting. Taylor Mikesell went 3-of-6 from beyond the arc in the first half.
Sheldon finished with 16 points, Walker added 15 and Cotie McMahon scored 14. Taylor Mikesell had a team-high 17.
“This is a great win for us because it puts us in the Sweet 16 but also just I have so much respect for North Carolina,” Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff said. “We beat a great opponent today.”
X’S AND O’S
McGuff said Ohio State’s final play design was intended to give Sheldon the basketball, but it didn’t unfold according to plan.
Walker, who averaged over 14 minutes and 4 1/2 points per game this season, took the inbounds pass from Rikki Harris, looked toward Sheldon after catching the ball, dribbled to the top of the key and hooked it back to Sheldon for the game-winning score.
“Eboni made a great decision not passing the initial one to Jacy because she really wasn’t open, and then we swung the ball back around and got it back in her hands,” McGuff said. “I told her in the locker room sometimes it’s about X’s and O’s and sometimes it’s about having the best player on the court.”
North Carolina: The Tar Heels allowed an opposing team to shoot at least 50% for the third time all season and first time since December. North Carolina allowed the Buckeyes to shoot 54.2% in the second half.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes have made second-half comebacks in all four of their postseason victories, including a 24-point resurgence that broke the Big Ten Tournament record March 4. Ohio State advances to the Sweet 16 for the fourth time since the 2015-16 season.
Ohio State will play the winner of No. 2 seed UConn and No. 7 seed Baylor in the Seattle 3 Regional.