Notre Dame shot 10-20 from three on Saturday night as part of an explosive offensive performance that buried the Tar Heels over the final ten minutes of the game and gave the Irish its first ACC title.
As usual, the question of UNC's perimeter defense has arisen so here is a break down of Notre Dame's twenty three point attempts and how UNC guarded them.
18:22 - Steve Vasturia miss - Vasturia inbounds the ball on the baseline. Brice Johnson is guarding the inbounder and after it's thrown into Jerian Grant out on the wing, Vasturia comes in and spots up on the wing. Johnson turns, stands at the block and doesn't bother following Vasturia who gets an open look and misses it.
16:58 Demetrius Jackson miss - Offensive rebound kicks out to Pat Connaughton who drives on Brice Johnson, Marcus Paige moves over to cut off the drive and Connaughton kicks to Jackson for an open three. He misses it back iron.
15:44 Jerin Grant miss - Grant gets a screen but it doesn't really bother J.P. Tokoto who easily follows him to the top of the key. Tokoto gives him a lot of space and Grants pulls the trigger about two feet behind the line. Tokoto jumps to contest and the shot hits back iron.
13:59 Pat Connaughton make - Isaiah Hicks loses track of Connaughton after an offensive rebound. Connaughton floats out to the right wing while Hicks remains in the lane. He realizes too late and Connaughton makes the open three.
12:21 Steve Vasturia miss - Vasturia screens Joel Berry off Jackson who starts to drive the baseline. Paige who is guarding Jackson moves to stop the drive and when he does Vasturia slips the screen and spots up on the wing. Berry stays with Jackson as does Paige. Jackson kicks to Vastruia who shoots the shot with Paige running at him and misses it back iron.
11:24 Pat Connaughton make - Grant brings the ball to the top of the key and starts to drive. Brice Johnson, who is guarding Connaughton on the wing, is sagging too far off him probably afraid of the smaller player driving him. Connaughton has an open look and hits it with Johnson lightly contesting.
10:33 V.J. Beachem miss - Grant throws to a wide open Zac Auguste in the post but Kennedy Meeks and Marcus Paige both collapse on him. That leaves Beachem(who Paige was guarding) open and Auguste kicks out to him but the three is missed back iron with Paige flying out at him.
9:24 Jerian Grant make - Connaughton drives across the elbow causing Nate Britt to slide off Grant at the three point line, Connaughton dishes and Grant hits the three.
8:55 Steve Vasturia make - Grant drives and Berry comes all the way into the lane leaving Vasturia wide open in the corner. Berry was too far away to even lightly contest the shot.
6:01 Steve Vasturia miss - Grant drives and Justin Jackson helps off Vasturia. Grants kicks out to Vasturia in the corner. The three misses.
0:04 Steve Vasturia make - Vasturia runs along the baseline and actually takes two steps out of bounds before spotting up along the sideline. Tokoto is guarding him but stops at the basket to help on Jackson driving to the hoop. When Tokoto turns to contest the layup Jackson kicks out to Vasturia who makes the three.
It should be noted that technically what Notre Dame did here was a violation. NC State was called earlier this season for having Ralston Turner catch a ball after having gone out of bounds. Vasturia did that here and was the next player to touch the ball. That call is hardly ever made though, unless you are NC State.
1st half: 5-11(45.5%)
18:45 Demetrius Jackson miss - Following a turnover, Notre Dame was in transition. Grant drives then kicks back behind him to Jackson. Johnson tries to contest but couldn't quite get there. Jackson misses the shot.
17:09 Pat Connaughton miss - Johnson fails to stay close to Connaughton who sets up in the corner. Grant drives then kicks to him and Johnson is out of position. The shot is missed.
11:15 V.J. Beachem make - Grant starts backing Paige down. Johnson leaves his man, Bonzie Colson to help Paige. Jackson, aware that Colson is now wide open under the basket leaves Beachem to cover him. Grant sees the rotation and whips a pass over to Beachem who hits the open three.
9:00 Demetrius Jackson make - Joel Berry helps on a Grant drive leaving Jackson open in the corner. He hits the open three.
8:10 Steve Vasturia make - Probably the turning point of the half. Grant drives and throws up a contested layup which Johnson blocks. The ball is tipped up and Hicks gets a hand on it but can't corral it. Grant tips it to Vasturia who drives the lane. UNC is in scramble mode and four players collapse. Vasturia kicks out to Grant on the left side. From there the pass went around the horn with UNC closing out on every time until it got to Vasturia who ran to the right corner after dishing to Grant. The three ties the game at 64-64.
7:52 Pat Connaughton make - Paige goes quickly after the Vasturia three but misses the layup. Connaughton grabs the rebound and outlets to Jackson who catches UNC in transition. Jackson drives on Johnson who stops the drive and gets Jackson airborne. He is able to turn and kick out to a trailing Connaughton on the wing who Hicks doesn't see come up. Instead of covering Connaughton, Hicks drifts into the lane leaving the Irish forward open. The three gives Notre Dame the lead for good.
6:18 Jerian Grant miss - UNC turnovers leads to transition for Notre Dame. Grant is trailing the play and gets it wide open on the wing but misses it.
4:54 Jerian Grant miss - Step back three from Grant at the top of the key with Tokoto guarding him. Grant was falling away as he shot it and missed.
4:20 Pat Connaughton make - Justin Jackson helps off Connaughton to try and stop Grant as he drove right to left across the lane. Connaughton pops out just right of the top of the key and gets an open look. The shot puts Notre Dame up 10.
2nd half: 5-9(55.6%)
In reviewing the film it's clear that Brice Johnson and to a lesser extent Isiah Hicks' defensive awareness can be an problem at times. There is also the issue of Pat Connaughton being an awful match-up for both Johnson and Hicks. On two instances, Hicks lost Connaughton completely leading to open threes. Johnson sagged off Connaughton too much on one play or doesn't stay as close to him as he needs to for a decent close out. With Johnson some of that was out of fear Connaughton would drive him as well as being uncomfortable guarding on the perimeter.
In one instance, Johnson leaves his man to help Paige being backed down by Grant which forces Jackson to drop down and cover Bonzie Colson. That chain reaction left V.J. Beachem open for three. Then there was Johnson allowing Vasturia to inbound the ball who immediately spotted up to shoot a three. In short, the combination of a bad match-up and some lapses by both Johnson and Hicks allowed Notre Dame to get some open looks.
As for the threes given up off help defense, by my count there were eight Notre Dame three point attempts directly resulting from a Tar Heel defender leaving the eventual shooter to stop a drive. Notre Dame was 5-8 on those shots. The Irish were 5-12 on all the others.
Of course, the three point shooting was just one of several factors in how this game unfolded for UNC. The Tar Heels could not stop dribble penetration and as much as we can complain about helping on drives, once a defender is beaten the defense has technically broken down. Jerian Grant getting past Nate Britt means one defender has been neutralized and if another one doesn't help out Grant is going to score an easy basket. Yes, 3 is more than 2 but the previous night Duke lost to Notre Dame with the Irish going 2-8 from three. Staying home on shooters and giving up baskets at the rim is still giving up points just not as fast.
In fact, from the 17 minute mark to the 11 minute mark, Notre Dame didn't attempt a three. The Irish were content to drive the ball and in doing so still found plenty of offensive success. Some of that came on the free throw line with the Irish ending the game +23 over the Tar Heels on free throws. The six minute span prior to Notre Dame's offensive explosion had the Irish scoring inside the arc and UNC hitting shots outside of it. Then the switch flipped and Notre Dame hit four threes in a row and five of the last seven the Irish took in the game. UNC started turning the ball over at an alarming rate which caused the Notre Dame lead to explode.
The point here is while Notre Dame's three point shooting was certainly a factor in the offensive explosion, it wasn't the only factor in play. Notre Dame mustered plenty of offense without shooting threes. UNC's inability to get a stop while edging the led up to nine proved crucial. Had the Heels gotten out to a 12-15 point leads, it may have changed the defensive dynamic. UNC could have then chosen to stay with the shooters and give up some drives because giving up twos is better than giving up threes while protecting a double digit lead. At some point Notre Dame would need to start taking tougher shots from long range which may not have fallen so easily.
The other aspect is while Notre Dame was hitting every shot in sight, UNC didn't match the points despite having shot the ball well for much of the half against a medicore defense. UNC stopped getting the ball inside and turnovers allowed Notre Dame to get into transition. Starting at 9:00 mark when Notre Dame cut the lead to 64-59 UNC had five turnovers and a Paige miss on the next six possessions. By the time UNC scored again three minutes later the Heels were down seven. Notre Dame had reeled off a 15-0 run and after a Tokoto dunk cut it to 71-66, the Irish scored nine straight to blow the game wide open. During the second Irish run Paige missed two shots, Berry missed a jumper and Hicks turned the ball over.
Ultimately, UNC's hope in this game was always going to be keeping the offense rolling. The Tar Heels were really good offensively in the first ten minutes of the half so it wasn't unexpected there would be a dip in production at some point. The problem was UNC didn't build a big enough lead to weather the storm everyone assumed would come. When it did UNC, didn't execute well. Turnovers are far worse than simply missing shots in the halfcourt. Had UNC done that, at least it would have avoided transition situations but as it was, those turnovers helped jumpstart the Irish offense.
Now let us never speak of this again.