Sweet Fancy Moses.
UNC turned up the defense and turned a one point game into a blow out by halftime as the Tar Heels advance to the ACC Championship with a 78-47 win over Notre Dame.
The game unfolded much like the first one did. Both teams hit shots early but it was UNC that found some early breathing room. Notre Dame went zone to start the game but UNC took advantage with early threes from Joel Berry and Marcus Paige. UNC would push the lead to as much as seven at 19-12 on an Isaiah Hicks dunk with 10:08 left int he half. Notre Dame bounced back to cut the lead to 23-20. Then a serious moment of trepidation for UNC as both Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks were saddled with two fouls apiece in a span of 19 seconds. Both big men subbed out and Notre Dame cut the lead to 23-22 on a Bonzie Colson layup.
That would be the last points Notre Dame would score in 9:34 of game time. With the two fouls each on Johnson and Meeks, Roy Williams initially stayed big with Joel James but then went small over the final 4:49 of the half and UNC up 27-22. What followed was a certifiable hammer drop by a team looking every bit the part of Final Four contender. The defense was in complete lockdown mode keeping a very good offensive team from producing. On the other end, Paige hit back-to-back threes, one of them a filthy step back after which he was reported to have said "I'm back." UNC scored the final 18 points of the half capping it off with a Joel Berry three at the buzzer to take a 19 point edge into the break.
Any concern UNC might give in during the second half was quickly squashed. UNC's run eventually reached 24 straight points before Notre Dame finally scored with 16:38 left in the second half. Once the Tar Heel lead reached 20 points it never dropped below that as Carolina kept pouring it on at both ends of the floor. It was a complete game in almost every facet to send UNC into the title game for the fifth time in six seasons.
Paige led UNC with 16 points and 7 assists versus zero turnovers. He was 5-9 from the field and 4-7 from three looking very much like the Paige of old. Brice Johnson, despite playing just 15 minutes due to foul trouble, still had 12 points to go with seven rebounds. Joel Berry also had 12 points and four assists while Justin Jackson and Isaiah Hicks had 11 apiece. Hicks picked up the rebounding slack left by Johnson's limited playing time to collect 15 rebounds. UNC dominated the boards 49-31.
Notre Dame entered the game with an offensive efficiency of 119.3. The Tar Heels held the Irish to 47 points and on offensive efficiency of just 70.4.