A win is a win right?
UNC started well enough on Senior Night. The senior group of Leslie McDonald, Wade Moody, James Manor and Denzel Washington were joined in the starting lineup by James Michael McAdoo and opened up a 7-4 lead in the early minutes. Moody made the most of his first career start hitting a three to open the game, a three that ended up being really important as the game unfolded. For most of the first half the game unfolded fine. UNC methodically opened up a 41-27 halftime lead shooting 50% from the floor
The second half was a different story. The Tar Heel team that struggled early in ACC play showed up and the Irish team that beat Duke came out of the locker room. Notre Dame went on a 22-5 run on 9-12 shooting to take a 49-46 lead. Meanwhile UNC went 2-11 and hit one free throw during the same span. It was a perfect storm of the offense and defense falling apart at the same time. UNC has had games where the former is prone to inconsistency but the latter is usually good enough to keep control of the game. This was a worst case scenario for UNC all the way around. The Tar Heels had a total of nine points through the first 14-plus minutes of the second half. After giving up 22 points in the first seven minutes of the half, UNC stepped up the defensive intensity holding the Irish scoreless seven minutes.
As UNC has done all throughout the recent win streak, they fought back but not in the normal "Marcus Paige shows up" manner. Paige was largely quiet posting his second straight single digit scoring game since putting up 35 against NC State. A primary factor in Paige being shut down was Notre Dame opting for a diamond-and-one defense and covering Paige all over the court. Irish coach Mike Brey said in the postgame the plan was to make someone else beat them and on two critical possessions that someone was Nate Britt. With 10:48 left in the game, Britt hit a jumper for UNC's first basket in almost four minutes. McAdoo followed on the next possession with a jumper to put UNC back up by one. With the game tied at 52, it was Britt again hitting a long jumper to give UNC the lead back. In fact this game is probably best defined as one that everyone pitched in and carried the load not just Paige. From the 6:12 mark until the 1:28 mark five different Tar Heels hit shots to put UNC up 61-56.
Much like the start of the half, just when it appeared UNC had control, Notre Dame cut the lead to two. UNC went 1-3-1 out of the timeout and forced a contested three but the Tar Heels failed to clean-up the defensive glass and Pat Connaughton got the put back and then hit a free trow to make it 61-59 with 52 seconds left. After a missed shot from Paige, Brice Johnson was able to get a hand on the rebound and direct it to Paige who was then fouled. Paige made one of two and Notre Dame got a layup to draw within one with 6.6 seconds left and Paige at the line. Again the normally reliable sophomore guard only hit one of two setting up this play.
Paige said afterwards he was supposed to fake then cover the corner shooter but read Eric Atkins eyes and thought he was going to drive. He made the decision to contest it(thus leaving the shooter) and got a huge block to preserve the win. Despite only scoring seven points, Paige has made the game winning play for the second time in UNC's last three contests.
For the game McAdoo led UNC with 14 points and nine rebounds. J.P. Tokoto continues to be a glue guy on this team with 11 points, six rebounds and three assists. His growth and contributions have been a major life to this team at a time when McAdoo and Paige have had their respective struggles over the past three games.
The Tar Heels have won three straight games by a total of seven points. In two of those games, Paige has been held to a total of 16 points. While winning in cleaner fashion would be preferable, there is value in seeing this team respond in a tight game without the benefit of Paige carrying them. UNC has now won 12 straight games and notches a 13th ACC win for the first time since 2012.