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UNC basketball kicks off 2021 by avoiding buzzer-beater loss to Notre Dame

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New year, new results.

Notre Dame v North Carolina Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

For even the most optimistic UNC fan out there, today’s game against Notre Dame probably had an ominous feel down the stretch. It looked for most of the game like Carolina had too few defensive answers for Nate Laszewski and the Fighting Irish. Day’Ron Sharpe had a career game, becoming the first Tar Heel to pass the 20-point mark this season, but it was easy to feel like it might not be enough.

Leaky Black drove to the basket and gave UNC a lead with nine seconds left in the game. We’ve seen it before, and could see how it would play out again. Buzzer beater losses have become all too familiar. Fortunately, things ended different this time. Maybe 2021 is already looking up. Juwan Durham’s jumper missed the mark, and the Heels held on for their first conference win of the year, 66-65.

Sharpe was magnificent, scoring 25 points and pulling down nine rebounds. He took 19 shots (!!!) in the game, but was far and away the most effective offensive option for Roy Williams’ squad. Kerwin Walton was the only other player in double figures for the Heels with 12 points coming on four made three-pointers. Leaky Black returned to the starting lineup and finished with the third-most points with eight.

UNC really made their money on the offensive glass against the Fighting Irish. Carolina bested Notre Dame 21-3 in the category, giving them enough second chances to squeak through with a victory. The Heels also limited Notre Dame’s trips to the free throw line to six, of which they made two. That is an area where UNC has struggled this season, particularly in making their own free throws, but they were 10-14 from the charity stripe in today’s game. They obviously needed every one of those.

In a game in which they shot just 35% from the field against a team that shot 47% and made 11 threes, the deck was stacked against this going UNC’s way. Nate Laszewski went blow for blow with Sharpe, also scoring 25 points for his team. Like Sharpe, his teammates gave him little help. Three-pointers have been a huge point of contention this season and teams with shooters who can consistently hit from long distance have been a big issue. Thankfully, the script was flipped in this particular game.

One bright spot is that Carolina was able to limit their turnovers to just eight. They turned the ball over numerous times early on before really settling down and only turning the ball over twice in the second half. In such a close game, every mistake is amplified and one more turnover could have been the difference between winning and losing. For a team that has struggled so much with taking care of the ball, today was a good time to remedy that issue.

There is still a lot of work to be done, obviously. Narrowly winning a game when you take care of the ball and have seven times as many offensive rebounds as your opponent is concerning, but getting the first ACC win out of the way feels good. We’ve seen this one end painfully too many times before and it’s nice to come out on the other side of that.

Carolina will be back in action on Tuesday when they take on Miami.