In some regards, North Carolina deserved to win this game. They held Notre Dame to just 23-66 shooting. Obviously, the Irish were without Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell, but 35% from the field is 35%. UNC also didn’t allow a field goal in the final five plus minutes of the game.
In other regards, the Tar Heels should have lost this game. Carolina losing the rebound battle is a rare occurrence, but they did against Notre Dame. The final margin ended up 45-37, and it didn’t seem that close watching it. Twenty of those 45 rebounds were offensive, and the Irish seemed to take advantage of those second chances more often that not. Turnovers weren’t as big of a problem as they have been in past games, but Notre Dame seemed to be playing smarter anyway.
The Irish led by one with 30 seconds to go, and looked on the verge of game-winning stop. After a jump bell kept the Tar Heels in possession with four seconds left on the shot clock, Joel Berry was fouled corralling a rebound after Sterling Manley airballed a desperation attempt.
He knocked down both free throws, and Carolina somehow got a stop on the final possession and escaped with a 69-68 win after a possible buzzer-beater just barely rimmed out. It goes in the win column, but it was far from pretty.
The first half was back and forth, with neither team ever leading by more than four. The Tar Heels were kept afloat for most of the first half by Luke Maye, who went into halftime with 13 points and nine rebounds. Towards the end of the first, Joel Berry knocked down some shots and Cameron Johnson made a late three to sent UNC into the break up 40-37. Otherwise, every non-Maye player spent most of the first half really struggling with the pace Notre Dame was trying to keep the game at.
The second half was slightly less of a rock fight, but it wasn’t much better. Maye wasn’t quite as effective, but Theo Pinson stepped up in a big way. Pinson scored nine of 11 points for the Tar Heels during stretch that turned a one-point deficit into a four-point lead with around nine minutes left.
However, four of the next five Irish baskets would be threes as Notre Dame took a six-point lead with just under six minutes left. That final three would be the last field goal UNC would allow. The defense buckled down in that last stretch and only gave up two points on free throws the rest of the way. That effort allowed the Tar Heels to end the game on a 9-2, which ended up being just enough.
Maye led UNC in points and rebounds with 18 and 11 and overall played pretty well, but as you can see, his production did slip in the second half. In addition to the game-winning free throws, Berry finished with 15 points.
Carolina’s most important performance probably came from Pinson. He scored 13 points, also chipping in with seven rebounds and four assists. He was involved in 13 of UNC’s 29 points in the second half. Without him, Notre Dame’s run of threes would have been a game-ender, instead of just putting the Irish up six.
You always hear announcers say that it’s easier to slow down a game than speed it up, and that definitely was the case today. Notre Dame was able to use that and rebounding to nearly come away with the win. Thankfully, UNC’s defense sans-rebounding had an excellent day, because if they hadn’t this would have been an extremely frustrating loss.
This win was ugly. It was a bit lucky considering how the final seconds played out. That being said, it’s a win. Take it and move on.