Deacs Edge Charlotte 72-69 in WNIT
Elisa Penna
March 17, 2016

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By Wake Forest Athletic Communications (@WakeWBB)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Amber Campbell hit a three-pointer with two minutes to go and Wake Forest women's basketball's defense came up big down the stretch as the Demon Deacons earned a 72-69 victory over Charlotte on Thursday night inside Halton Arena in the first round of the WNIT.

Trailing by one entering the fourth quarter, Wake Forest and Charlotte battled back and forth until the 49ers led by two at 63-61 with 4:53 to play. From there, Wake Forest went on a 6-0 run with a layup from Ataijah Taylor, a layup by Milan Quinn and a jumper by Ariel Stephenson to go up 67-63. After two free throws by Kira Gordon cut the lead to two, Campbell knocked down a the big three-pointer in front of the Demon Deacon bench that ultimately sealed the deal.

Down the stretch, Wake Forest's defense came up big as Charlotte's final four points came via free throws and the Deacs came up with two steals in the final two seconds to keep Charlotte from getting a real chance at tying the contest. The 49ers ended up missing each of their last four shots and went 1-for-6 from the floor to finish the game as the Deacs advanced to the second round.

The victory moves Wake Forest to 17-15 on the season and secures Wake Forest's first winning season under fourth-year head coach Jen Hoover. The 17 wins is the most since the Demon Deacons won 20 games in 2011-12, which was also the last time Wake Forest went to the postseason. Charlotte's season ends at 19-12 after the first-round loss. The Demon Deacons are now 3-0 all-time in the WNIT against Charlotte having previously posted wins in 2005 and 2012 over the 49ers. All-time, the Deacs are now 4-4 in the WNIT.

Wake Forest fell down early after back-to-back three pointers by Lefty Webster in the first quarter to make it a 13-7 lead for Charlotte. The Deacs responded with tough defense and a 6-0 run over a 1:29 span of action that saw the Deacs tie the game with a Stephenson jumper. The two teams traded one more bucket throughout the final 3:22 of the quarter as the Deacs and 49ers ended the first quarter tied at 15.

To open the second, Charlotte's Grace Hunter and Ciara Gregory knocked down consecutive three-pointers to jump out to a six-point lead at 21-15 just 55 seconds into the frame, but the Demon Deacons responded with a 14-2 run to gain their first lead of the night. The run started with a three from Taylor that hit the front of the rim and bounced in. Elisa Penna then hit the Deacs' next five points to tie the game and Destini Walker gave Wake Forest the lead with 4:51 to go in the half.

Capping the run with a free throw from Stephenson to make it 29-23 with 3:12 to go, the 49ers crawled back in with five-straight points from Gregory as Charlotte went on a 10-0 run to go back up by four with 47 seconds left in the half. During the run, Gregory hit two threes and a pair of free throws in scoring eight of the 49ers' 10 points on the run. The run ended with two free throws by Stephenson with 22 seconds left, cutting the Charlotte lead to 33-31 at halftime.

Charlotte opened the third quarter on an 8-2 run, but the resilient Deacs again fought back with a layup by Kandice Ball and a three-pointer by Walker to cut the lead back to 41-38. From there, the two teams traded buckets over the last 6:11 of the quarter but Campbell got loose on a fast-break opportunity and beat the buzzer with a layup to cut the Charlotte lead to one at 54-53 through three.

Campbell finished with a team-high 16 points to go with six rebounds. Penna recorded her third-career double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds while Stephenson and Walker both added 11 points to the win. Quinn just missed her third-straight double-double in finishing with nine points and nine rebounds. Two of Wake Forest's seniors -- Taylor and Ball -- came up big with Taylor adding eight points and Ball scoring six points to go with six rebounds. The six points for Ball are the most in a game since scoring eight against North Carolina on Jan. 21.

Charlotte was led by a game-high 21 points from Alexis Alexander on 10-of-16 shooting. Webster contributed 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting and Gregory rounded out the double-figure scorers with 11 points.

The Deacs were big on the glass with 45 rebounds to Charlotte's 34. Wake Forest's big difference maker came on the offensive glass, as the Deacs pulled down 22 offensive rebounds and scored 18 second-chance points.

Wake Forest's second-round matchup will be against either Florida Gulf Coast or Bethune-Cookman. Those two will battle it out in the first round on Friday night. The Deacs will take on either the Eagles or Wildcats on Monday. Time and location will be determined after the first round is completed Friday night.