It was always going to be a big game. Two punchy teams with lofty aspirations, two teams with the same ACC record. It did not disappoint. Despite falling behind in the third quarter, Duke rallied behind a monstrous performance from forward Delaney Thomas in the fourth quarter to win the game 68-60 in overtime.
Foul trouble plagued the hosts down the stretch, as both junior Reigan Richardson and Oluchi Okananwa picked up four fouls relatively early in the final period. Despite the added stress, it was Okananwa who drained a shot from deep to cut the lead to just three points with under five minutes left. It was, unsurprisingly, Thomas who managed to tie the game up at 48, converting the and-one. Then, it was Taina Mair who managed to seize the lead, dropping in a shot from deep to give the Blue Devils (16-7, 8-4 in the ACC) their first advantage of the game.
Tar Heel guard Lexi Donarski answered right back at the other end, drawing the foul and converting the extra shot to give the visitors the lead. Two more Okananwa free throws continued to keep the game tied, and with a minute-and-a-half left it was 53 apiece. Despite valiant attempts and several timeouts, the Blue Devils were unable to make a shot to end the period. A forced turnovers gave the visitors a chance with the clock ticking down, but the Duke defense stood strong and the game was tied heading into overtime.
The Tar Heels (15-8, 7-6) drew first blood in the extra period, as Kelly dropped in a shot from deep. However, the Blue Devils quickly answered. First it was Thomas who put the ball up for her 17th and 18th points of the game. Then, she drew a fifth foul on star North Carolina forward Alyssa Ustby. A Kennedy Brown put-back again gave the home squad the lead, as the clock ticked below two minutes. Following that up was Reigan Richardson with a jumper from the elbow, and a rebounding foul allowed Brown to extend the lead to six points with just under two minutes remaining. The dagger came from Mair, who dropped in a shot from the corner to extend the lead to seven. Some more solid defense from the hosts prevented the last-second comeback, and the Blue Devils exited victorious.
The tension was palpable heading into a tightly-contested second half, as the hard-nosed basketball continued. The only available points were physical finishes at the rim and deep, often contested 3-pointers. It was the Tar Heels who found their stroke first. No play was more representative of how the half started than when Ustby pump-faked down low, as freshman Thomas bit and Ustby drew the tough and-one basket. On the very next trip down the floor, it was North Carolina guard Deja Kelly who drew another one down low, converting the basket before hyping up what was a sizable turnout from Chapel Hill on her way to the line. The youthful home team appeared to have lost control.
Sophomore guard Emma Koabel managed to rally the troops for a skidding home team as the Tar Heels pulled away in the second half, draining a corner shot to cut the lead back to single digits. Even then, issues on both ends continued to plague the hosts. Seven fouls in the third quarter certainly did not help the Blue Devils, whose physical defense was coming back to bite them as they chased the game. The third quarter appeared like it might be the consequential one, as Duke finished the period down 12.
The Tar Heels came into the first with a plan, using Ustby to go right at Blue Devil freshman guard Jadyn Donovan. It worked, as Ustby took Donovan on the baseline and dropped in the bucket for the first points of the game. On the other end of the floor, the North Carolina defense was suffocating. Turnovers and mistakes abounded for Duke, which looked like it was struggling to find a rhythm. The shot clock ran low consistently, and forced poor selection from the field. At the under-5 timeout, the visitors led 11-4.
Then the Duke defense began to find its footing. Freshman standout guard Okananwa played as she often does, forcing turnovers and playing dynamically at both ends. On offense, it was Ashlon Jackson who provided a spark, pump-faking and taking a dribble before dropping a ball in from deep. The shots started to fall, as sophomore Taina Mair nailed one from deep. Some clever play design gave center Camilla Emsbo an easy look at the cup, and at the end of the quarter it was a one-point game.
The second period was much of the same, as the two teams battled it out. The defense was suffocating, and neither team was able to generate quality looks. The visitors continued to attack Donovan, who struggled on both ends of the floor. The freshman was jumpy on defense and unable to find her shooting stroke. Across the afternoon, Donovan went 0-for-3 from the field with a plus-minus of -4.
It was Thomas, however, who continued to provide a youthful jolt for the team. The freshman played excellent defense and provided some quality post play from the 4-spot. She often found herself in the position to grab rebounds and put up second-chance points when initial attempts failed to fall. Despite hard work on both ends of the floor, the first half ended much like the first quarter: with Duke down one.
After their tide-changing win, the Blue Devils next head to Blacksburg, Va., for a Thursday rematch with Virginia Tech.
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Officials urge caution as North Carolina's spring wildfire season begins
March is the start of the spring wildfire season in North Carolina.
The state had more than 5,300 wildfires last year, which burned more than 76,000 acres. North Carolina has two wildfire seasons: one during the spring and one during the fall. According to Philip Jackson, a public information officer with the North Carolina Forest Service, springtime is typically the most active season for wildfires.
That’s partially due to plants and other vegetation waking up and refueling after their winter dormancy.
“Think of a bear when it wakes up from hibernation,” Jackson said. “It’s got to eat. And these plants, they’ve got to pull that moisture from the ground, and they need that nutrients to be able to bloom and develop.”
Despite springtime rain, Jackson said that these thirsty plants can dry out the areas around them. The greenery that ushers in spring then signals the start of more days with high fire danger.
“Think of each individual root system being a straw in the ground, and that straw is sucking that water out of the ground,” Jackson said. “Even when you have days where you get a lot of rain, it might not hang around for very long because you have so many different organisms that are pulling that moisture out of the ground. So, the vegetation can dry out a little quicker.”
The warmer weather also draws more people outdoors for recreation and spring cleaning, which creates more ignition opportunities. Jackson said that in North Carolina, 99% of wildfires are caused by humans. Of the more than 300 wildfires that occurred in the last week alone, Jackson said that just one was started by lightning. All others were human-caused.
Debris burning is the main culprit of North Carolina’s wildfires. The practice is often used to dispose of leaves, tree limbs and other yard debris. Last March, a debris burn on private land in Tyrrell County escaped containment, reaching 5,280 acres in size. It took firefighters about two weeks to fully contain the fire.
Jackson says residents need to be mindful of wildfire causes heading into the spring season. Before burning, Jackson encouraged landowners to obtain a burn permit and to keep phones and water sources nearby. Additionally, he said residents should not burn debris on dry, windy days.
The spring wildfire season runs through May.
North Carolina's 5 open congressional seats drawing candidates in droves
RALEIGH, N.C. — With five members of North Carolina’s U.S. House delegation declining to run this year, next week’s primaries have attracted dozens of Republican candidates seeking what could become extended time on Capitol Hill.
Some of the turnover can be attributed to redistricting — the Republican-controlled General Assembly last fall approved districts skewing rightward, prompting Democratic Reps. Jeff Jackson, Kathy Manning and Wiley Nickel to forgo reelection bids.
Compared to a map drawn by state judges for 2022 elections that resulted in Democrats and Republicans winning seven congressional seats each, the latest map makes it likely the GOP will win at least 10 of the 14 seats, according to election data. These seat flips could benefit national Republicans trying to retain what is now a fragile House majority in 2025.
Republican Reps. Patrick McHenry and Dan Bishop also declined to seek reelection, opening up vacancies in heavily GOP areas.
With courts rejecting legal arguments that redistricting maps can be struck down for favoring a party’s candidates disproportionately, chances are improved that North Carolina’s current congressional lines will stay in place through the 2030 elections, one redistricting expert says.
Given voting behavior and the shape of the districts, whoever wins can conceivably hold a seat “as long as they want,” said Michael Bitzer, a Catawba College political science professor. “This could be a very long career for whoever gets elected in this primary.”
Four of the Republican primaries for seats where no incumbent is running have at least five candidates. That raises the possibility of May 14 runoffs between a race’s two top vote-getters should a leading candidate fail to receive more than 30% of the vote.
The open seats have attracted candidates including current North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore, former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker and the Rev. Mark Harris. Harris appeared to receive the most votes for a 2018 congressional election but never took office as a new election was ordered over an absentee ballot fraud probe.
Fourteen Republicans are competing for Nickel’s seat in the 13th District, now shaped like a horseshoe arcing around most of Raleigh and stretching from Lee County — then east and north — to the Virginia border.
Candidates include Kelly Daughtry, a Smithfield attorney, and Johnston County businessman DeVan Barbour, both of whom ran in the 2022 primary. Television ads have helped raise the profiles of Wake Forest businessman Fred Von Canon and former federal prosecutor Brad Knott of Raleigh. And Dr. Josh McConkey of Apex gained attention after winning a state lottery jackpot. The nominee will take on Democrat Frank Pierce in November.
Republican former President Donald Trump so far has endorsed candidates for two of the five open seats, including Addison McDowell in the 6th District and Moore in the 14th District.
McDowell, most recently a lobbyist for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, received Trump’s backing and those of legislative leaders in his first bid for public office. The reconfigured 6th District, whose seat is currently held by Manning, stretches from Greensboro and Winston-Salem south and west to Concord.
McDowell’s rivals include Bo Hines, who received Trump’s endorsement when he won the 13th District GOP nomination in 2022, and Walker, who served in Congress in the Greensboro area for six years through 2020. Hines, who narrowly lost to Nickel in the 2022 general election, this time around again received the endorsement of the Club for Growth PAC. Christian Castelli is a retired Army officer and Green Beret who lost to Manning in the 2022 general election. He is also in the six-person field to become the GOP 6th District nominee, who will face no Democratic opposition in the fall.
Moore is seeking the nomination for the 14th District, which includes portions of Charlotte and points west to the foothills. The Kings Mountain lawyer has served in the General Assembly since 2003 and was first elected speaker in 2015. With Jackson deciding against reelection and running for attorney general instead, Pam Genant and Brendan Maginnis are running for the Democratic nomination.
In the south-central 8th District, with Bishop also deciding instead to run for attorney general, the six-candidate GOP field includes Harris and state Rep. John Bradford of Charlotte.
Harris, a Baptist minister, finished first in the 2018 general election in a similarly situated congressional district. But the State Board of Elections ordered a new election after receiving allegations and evidence that a political operative who worked for Harris had run an illegal “ballot harvesting” operation. Several people ultimately entered plea convictions. Harris wasn’t charged. He called publicly for a new election in which he declined to run. Now, Harris says he was the victim of a “manufactured scandal.”
The five-member GOP field seeking to succeed McHenry in the 10th District — anchored by Iredell County while stretching to Winston-Salem and Lincolnton — includes 2022 congressional candidate Pat Harrigan and state Rep. Grey Mills. The winner will take on Democrat Ralph Scott Jr. and a Libertarian Party candidate in the fall.
Voting patterns and past election results show the reconfigured 1st District — covering all or parts of 22 eastern counties — as the likely lone toss-up race in November. The district is currently represented by first-term Democratic Rep. Don Davis, who beat Republican Sandy Smith in 2022 and is seeking reelection. Smith is competing with ex-Army colonel Laurie Buckhout for the GOP nomination. Smith received Trump’s endorsement in 2022.
Other incumbents competing in the March 5 primaries are first-term Republican Rep. Chuck Edwards in the far-western 11th District; GOP Rep. Virginia Foxx in the northwestern 5th District; Richard Hudson in the Piedmont and Sandhills-area 9th District; and Democratic Rep. Deborah Ross in the Raleigh-dominated 2nd District.
Three candidates face off in GOP primary for NC governor
Republicans haven’t occupied North Carolina’s governor’s mansion since 2016. They’re hoping 2024 will be their year to win it back with one of the three candidates GOP voters will find this year on their primary ballot.
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