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UNC 78 Notre Dame 47: What Did We Just Watch?

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Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

That was Doc's question following the game. It was an incredible performance taking apart Notre Dame on both ends of the court. Here are three observations.

Defense

Jay Bilas raised the point that UNC is a good defensive team that often doesn't get credit for it. The numbers certainly support that with UNC's defensive efficiency climbing into the 20s earlier this week(thanks to Duke and NCSU playing so well offensively, it actually moved UNC up in defensive ranking.) At the start of the game, UNC was 30th nationally in defensive efficiency at 95.7. UNC is presently 15th and the efficiency has dropped to 94.4. According to KenPom, Notre Dame's offensive efficiency was 68.6 for a team that averaged over 119 coming into the game. That was Notre Dame's worst offensive efficiency since KenPom started tracking it 14 years ago.

The numbers don't tell the whole story here. Sometimes teams miss open shots or commit unforced errors leading turnovers. That wasn't really the case. UNC dominated Notre Dame on the defensive end. They ran shooters off the three point line, largely kept Notre Dame out of the lane and controlled the defensive glass holding Notre Dame to an ORB% of 18.9.

On Thursday, UNC turned the defensive screws when it needed to to pull away from Pitt. Against Notre Dame, UNC kept turning the vise all game long.

Marcus Paige Back?

There probably should be some caution in getting too excited about one good game from Marcus Paige. This type of game has been such a long time coming it's nearly impossible not to hope it's the beginning of a nice run for the senior guard. If you are looking for signs why this might be different, it lies in the fact this looked like a complete game from Paige. He wasn't simply settling for jump shots though seven of his nine shots were threes. Those shots came within the flow of the offense or he created the shot as he did on the step back three to put UNC up 32-22.

The other aspect was Paige as a facilitator of the offense. He ended the game with seven assists and in some ways him hitting shots earlier opened the door to get other players involved. In the second half after he hit a three, a close out opened up a teammate and Paige drop a pass in to Justin Jackson instead of taking a contested three.

Paige did a little bit of everything on both ends of the floor but when his shot is falling and he's dishing assists, UNC is much closer to those preseason expectations.

Playing with an edge

This game ended up being a little chippy. Notre Dame has made it clear it considers itself the one to upset the apple cart for UNC and Duke as the teams that run the ACC. The Irish took Duke out on Wednesday and had its sights set on doing it to UNC. The Tar Heels dropped hints after knocking off PIttsburgh that another shot at Notre Dame was preferable given how the last three contests have gone.

Whatever the motivation, UNC came to not just win but dominate the game. Too many times this season, UNC has allowed itself to be dictated to on both ends of the floor. That wasn't the case here. UNC decided Notre Dame was going to shoot threes so the defense extended out to take away those looks. Notre Dame ended up settling for long twos and when they missed shots, the Tar Heels cleaned up the class.

More than that, UNC showed no signs of backing down as illustrated by Justin Jackson refusing to give up the ball to Notre Dame's Matt Ryan in a tie up.

That's the kind of toughness UNC hasn't always shown this season but it's coming out at just the right time.