By AARON BEARD
AP Basketball Writer
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Shayla Bennett scored 20 points and North Carolina again handed a highly ranked North Carolina State team its first loss of the season, beating the No. 9 Wolfpack 66-60 on Thursday night.
Taylor Koenen added 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Tar Heels, who battled back from 12 down midway through the third quarter before making a surprising rally against one of the nation’s last four unbeaten teams. The Tar Heels (12-3, 3-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) pushed ahead for good on Madinah Muhammad’s free throws with 8:14 left, then repeatedly came up with tough baskets to gradually tighten their grip on the game down the stretch.
It came less than a year after the Tar Heels won in Raleigh against a Wolfpack team ranked No. 7 and standing as the nation’s last unbeaten Division I team on the men’s or women’s side at 21-0. This time, it gave first-year coach Courtney Banghart her first win in the longtime series between nearby rivals.
Aislinn Konig scored 24 points for the Wolfpack (14-1, 3-1), who went more than 10 minutes without a basket after taking a 46-34 lead with 5:10 left in the third quarter. N.C. State shot just 7 of 30 (19%) after halftime, while sophomore center Elissa Cunane – the reigning ACC player of the week – never got going against Janelle Bailey inside and finished with a season-low eight points on 3-for-11 shooting.
N.C. State: The Wolfpack arrived alongside No. 1 Connecticut, No. 3 Oregon State and No. 8 UCLA as the nation’s remaining unbeaten teams. But after a hot start, N.C. State went completely cold and missed 12 straight shots as UNC climbed back in it. Cunane, who had 13 rebounds, came in averaging 17.5 points and 10.4 rebounds with 54 points combined in the past two games but never was much of a factor with the Wolfpack relying on the outside shot (12 of 29 from 3).
UNC: The Tar Heels had won their first two league games under Banghart before losing last weekend at Virginia Tech. This one was huge, with the Tar Heels shooting 45% after halftime and hanging in when the Wolfpack pushed ahead by double figures.
N.C. State: Notre Dame hosts the Wolfpack on Sunday.
UNC: The Tar Heels visit No. 11 Florida State on Sunday.
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