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UNC Basketball vs Notre Dame: Three Things Learned

The first ACC win on the road did not come easy.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Still with us, everyone? I know I sat motionless on my couch for a few seconds after the horn went off in South Bend last night.

We’re all breathing a sigh of relief after Carolina escaped with a nice one-point win over Notre Dame, 69-68. Escape really is the right word as TJ Gibbs had his last second jumper roll around a the rim and just spin out, sealing the win.

So, after we all all shoved our hearts back into our throats, what did we learn?

Carolina can win an ugly game

When you play an eighteen-game ACC schedule, they aren’t all going to be games like Boston College. Some nights the calls are not going to go your way, the refereeing is going to be inconsistent, the home team is going to get some lucky bounces, and because you have “North Carolina” on your chest, you will get each team’s best shot no matter who is missing.

Saturday checked everything on the “ugly” list as Notre Dame managed to slow the pace of the game in order to keep it close, the officiating crew was...inconsistent...with their calls, and the Irish fed off the energy of the home crowd to keep Carolina in shouting distance.

Despite all that, you never sensed panic in this team, even when they got down by six with 5:58 left. The three pointer by Nikola Djogo could have been where things fell apart, but it turned into the last field goal that Notre Dame would score for the rest of the game.

Read that line again. In the haze of how the game ended, Notre Dame did not make a field goal in the last 5:58 of the game. Their only points came from two free throws by Gibbs. For the game Notre Dame only shot 34.8% overall, even though they shot 41.7% from outside. It should be noted, too, more than a couple of those made 3’s were from balls that acted exactly like Gibbs’ last jumper, but rolled in.

Carolina’s defense was sneaky good here, despite the score, and Kenny Williams was the key to it. Think I’m kidding? Take a look at the play by play and notice what happened after Williams picked up his fourth foul: ND scores on five straight possessions, and four of them were three pointers. Williams checked back in with 4:50 left in the second, and despite fouling out, ND didn’t score a field goal again.

Going back to the six-point deficit, Carolina didn’t panic, and the NCAA MOP stepped up with a big layup that quieted a raucous crowd. The Heels methodically worked the deficit down, even down to their final points where Berry was in perfect position for a rebound and drew a foul on the Irish. While they were lucky the final shot didn’t fall, they earned the win by fighting back to get the lead and holding ND scoreless. As we learned last year, there will be other games like this.

Brooks and Manley are contributing from the bench

For the second straight game, Roy Williams went with the starting lineup that subs out Garrison Brooks for Cameron Johnson. Jake is going to have an article a little later examining the hype around this, but for now we’re going to focus on what the bigs have done since the move has been made.

Let’s clear up one thing right away: the minutes these two are playing really hasn’t changed. Brooks is averaging 18 minutes a game, and Manley is averaging 12. Last night, they had 14 and 10, respectively. It’s a small reduction, but not monumental, and their presence was felt when they were on the floor. Manley managed seven points and four boards in his short time, taking advantage of playing against some tired bodies on the floor and negating his conditioning issues. Brooks had four points and three boards, and just appears to be playing with more confidence now that he doesn't have the expectations that come with starting.

The rebounding stats are going to tell you why it’s important to get contributions from these two. We had gotten so used to Carolina doing well on the glass with the smaller lineup that to see them lose the battle of the boards, and so badly, is jarring. Notre Dame sold out hard to the glass, and their results showed with a 45-37 win in total rebounds. Without the seven from the big men, the Heels would be staring at a 15 board deficit, and in a one-point game, it’s fair to say the result hinged on them. This is after the pair contributed for nine boards and thirteen points on Wednesday.

They can still be liabilities on the floor, as Brooks was on the floor during that Notre Dame hot streak after Williams got his fourth, and his airmailed pass led to a three during that run. He recovered, though, to get a score during the closing run. Meanwhile, Manley was on the court for the final possession, and the play designed was for him, but he just airmailed the shot. That said, he did so in enough time for Berry to react, the result of which we know.

Time will tell if Roy sticks with these two coming off the bench, as the Johnson lineup seemingly made more sense for the last two games, and it very well could make sense against Clemson as they have no player above 6’ 9”. Not every team is this short, however, and it’s possible that the confidence they gain now will pay dividends should either of them be called on to provide more playing time later on.

Roy saves his timeouts for a reason

You’ve done it, I’ve done it. The opposing team is making a run and hitting its shots, and Roy just lets them play on, hoarding his timeouts for the end of the game. Last night showed you both sides of that spectrum.

With 6:57 left in the second, Gibbs hit a 3 that put ND up by 3, and then Mike Brey called his team’s second timeout of the half. There really wasn’t a reason to call that timeout there, and it was a costly one as Notre Dame had only one left for the rest of the half.

You think when the team couldn’t make a field goal for the last six minutes of the game that Brey would have loved to have another timeout to call? Instead, with the lead, he was forced to have his team try to work through it as Carolina methodically came back. Meanwhile, Roy had his full set, not calling his first until there were 32 seconds left and Notre Dame had hit two free throws to go back up by one. It was a chance for Roy to set up the last play and remind his team that they would have to go back on defense.

When the first play broke down and Carolina secured a jump ball with four seconds left on the shot clock, Roy was able to call his second time out to reset his team again. While the shot Manley took was not close, he was clearly instructed to put it up in enough time to make sure Carolina had a chance at a rebound. Berry did Berry things, getting the board, hoisting a...shot...that hit the rim while getting fouled before the shot clock went off.

Here again, Brey probably would have liked to have had a timeout in an attempt to ice Berry before the free throws. While the review at the table acted as a free time out, no doubt Brey would have called another one to continue to chill the senior, as well as set something up for his team if Berry missed the back end and they got the board. Instead, as he only had one, he had to keep it so he could set up his last play. Even that was foiled as Roy was able to see what Brey was going to do, and call his last time out to adjust his defense.

After Brey’s timeout, Manley was set at the baseline to guard the inbounder in order to make the pass more difficult. When Roy saw how the Irish were set, he called another timeout to tell them what Notre Dame was likely to do, and pulled Manley for the smaller Robinson. The defense on the final shot was outstanding, as Gibbs’ first shot was contested with two hands in his face, Notre Dame just lucked out that the ball bounced right back to him, and he had a second chance.

So, in thirty seconds of game action, Roy had all three of his timeouts, and each one came in handy. In other words, maybe after thirty years, this coach knows what he’s doing.