Everyone can breathe. A visit from Notre Dame was just what the #13 Heels needed to get back on track. It looked like any lingering malaise from Saturday’s historic debacle had been flushed out before Coby White hit a three-pointer for the first points of the game, but the rest of the game wasn’t that smooth. It wasn’t easy. One might even say it was “ugly”. When the buzzer sounded, it didn’t matter as #13 North Carolina (13-4, 3-1) walked away with a 75-69 victory.
From the opening tip, White was on a mission to make amends for his sub-standard performance against Louisville. After his first three, he forced Notre Dame to call an early timeout on their first offensive possession. He then stole the ball on the ensuing inbound. The tone was set, even if the ensuing game wasn’t quite as pretty as most fans would’ve preferred.
A Brandon Robinson three-pointer gave Carolina a 26-18 lead at the 10:45 mark, and it seemed North Carolina would run away from a struggling Notre Dame squad. That didn’t happen, of course, because this is the ACC. That three from B-Rob forced Mike Brey to pull the Irish out of a 2-3 zone and challenged the Heels with man-to-man the rest of the half. North Carolina responded by not scoring for five minutes until Kenny Williams hit a driving layup with 5:09 remaining in the half.
The only reason the game remained close during this stretch? Notre Dame could only close the lead to 26-23 thanks to defense that was as good as the offense was bad. This defensive intensity would falter down the stretch, when the Irish finished the half on an 8-0 run and went into the locker room with a 36-33 advantage. If Brandon Robinson hadn’t scored 9 points on 3-3 shooting from behind the arc, it wouldn’t have been that close.
The culprit, as has been the case too often, was turnovers (9), poor shooting (37.1%), and trouble guarding the roller on the high pick-and-roll which contributed to 14 points in the paint. The only thing going well for UNC, hitting 6-12 from three, was equaled by Notre Dame shooting an almost-identical 6-13 from deep.
Fortunately, basketball games are two halves. North Carolina wasn’t much better in the final 20 minutes, but they were just good enough to pull away. After falling behind 39-33 on the first possession of the second-half, fans experienced some déjà vu from Saturday. A concerning hush began to fall over the crowd. It all looked too familiar.
In fact, Tuesday night against Notre Dame was the sixth game North Carolina had trailed by six or more points. They were 1-4 in five previous contests, only completing the comeback against UCLA. They can now move that record to 2-4 on the season, but in the moment, doubt was beginning to creep in.
Slowly, the Heels started crawling back. They reclaimed a 49-47 lead on a pair of Cameron Johnson free throws before Notre Dame retook the lead. Then Seventh Woods brought a jolt of energy on this chase-down block. Seriously, Seventh. That man has a family.
Seventh Woods with a huge chasedown block for UNC pic.twitter.com/SwMlp9HeDu— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) January 16, 2019
And here is another angle.
“FOH” - Seventh Woods pic.twitter.com/28tyqXuptQ— Barstool Sports (@barstooltweetss) January 16, 2019
That awoke the Dean Dome from its slumber. Then Nassir Little, silent to this point in ACC play, went to work, scoring all 11 of his points in the second half. A baseline dunk got him going and put UNC ahead 53-52 with 10:45 remaining. By the time Little had scored his final two points with 1:25 left in the game, that lead had grown to 69-59. At that point, the game was all but decided and Little finally had the breakout performance everyone had been waiting for. Some free throw shenanigans were all that were left between that point and the final score.
Along the way was Coby White, finishing with 17 points on 6-11 shooting (4-7 from three). He added 5 rebounds, 1 assist, and 2 turnovers before fouling out.
Luke Maye worked his way to a 14 point and 10 rebound double-double, despite shooting a paltry 6-19 from the floor.
Cam Johnson didn’t hit a three-pointer for the second straight game, but still finished with 11 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists.
As a team, North Carolina finished with just 11 turnovers, 2 in the second half, and a 47-36 advantage on the glass. They also led Notre Dame 32-26, in points in the paint. Thanks chiefly to Little’s and Robinson’s performances, the Tar Heel bench also contributed 24 points.
It took 17 games, but North Carolina finally slugged their way to an “ugly” win. It won’t be the last time they are in that situation.