The Tar Heels fell to sixth-ranked Notre Dame 14-13 on Saturday to finish with a losing regular season record. This is the first time that the Heels have finished with a losing record since 2006, and it could be the first time the team hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since then. After going to nine straight NCAA Tournaments and winning the National Championship in 2016, the 2017 season proved to be a major disappointment.
UNC played Notre Dame close for much of the game, but Notre Dame was up 7-5 at the half. The Heels battled back to tie it at 13 all with just under six minutes remaining. However, Carolina couldn’t hold on defense (a problem that they had all season) and allowed Notre Dame to score what would be the game-winning goal with 2:44 left in the fourth quarter. It was a microcosm of UNC’s season as they let yet another close game slip through their fingers.
Chris Cloutier had a good outing, scoring four goals for the Heels. Kelly added two more and William Perry had the game-tying goal that gave the Heels a sliver of hope. However, Notre Dame’s Mikey Wynne had five goals for the Irish, who improve to 7-3 and 2-2 in the ACC. The Heels fall to 6-7 and 1-3 in the ACC, with their only conference win coming in a 15-12 victory at Virginia two weeks ago.
The Heels had struggled in close games all season. They lost by one in overtime against Syracuse, by one to Richmond, and by two to Hofstra early in the season. North Carolina also liked to blow big leads. They led 6-1 over Duke before being outscored 11-2 in the rest of the game to lose 12-8. They also had a big 10-5 lead over #1 Syracuse at home before losing in overtime.
Carolina started the season ranked #1 in the nation, thanks to their National Championship win the season before. They started 3-0 with wins over the UMBC, Furman, and Lehigh, but they were blown out 13-5 by Johns Hopkins at home. They then followed up their embarrassing loss with a 13-9 win over top-ranked Denver on the road, and it looked like the Johns Hopkins game was just a fluke. It wasn’t, though, and the Heels finished their season going just 2-6 over their last eight games.
UNC will need to have an excellent ACC Tournament if they want to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for a tenth straight year. As the #4 seed, they will face #1 Syracuse on Friday. If they can pull out a win, then they’d play the winner of Notre Dame-Duke on Sunday.
Only winning the ACC Tournament can send the Heels to the NCAA Tournament now, and the stakes are high. Tune into ESPNU on Friday at 6:00 pm to watch the Tar Heels take on Syracuse. If you’d rather watch in person, the games will be held at Koskinen Stadium on Duke’s Campus. You can buy tickets here.