There was something about tonight’s game that didn’t give me the warm fuzzies before the ball was even tipped, and unfortunately it was with good reason. After a really disappointing first half, the Tar Heels were held off by the Fighting Irish in Parcell Pavillion, giving the Heels their first ACC road loss of the season. They will now return to Chapel Hill 1-1 in their two-game road trip, and will go into their game against Virginia with a 10-4 record.
Notre Dame came out of the gate abusing the matchups that presented themselves thanks to UNC’s defensive scheme. The Heels were switching on defense, which left bigs vulnerable to have three-pointers drained on them at will. Nate Laszewski feasted the most, as he drained three of his six three-pointers in the first 20 minutes. Freshman guard Blake Wesley took advantage of the Heels’ lackluster defense by scoring 13 points to open the game.
As for the Heels, Armando Bacot and R.J. Davis were the only players that could get going in the first half. Even when the Irish started double-teaming him, Bacot was able to get anything and everything that he wanted at the rim. Bacot and Davis combined for 27 points in the first half, which accounted for more than half of UNC’s point total. Bacot also managed to pull down 11 boards, earning his double-double going into halftime.
UNC managed to start the second half with a four-point deficit, but that didn’t last very long. Laszewski helped the Irish extend their lead to 13 behind a pair of three-pointers, and things looked as bleak as they did in the game against Kentucky. Coming out of the timeout at the 13:54 mark, Hubert Davis finally tried a four-guard lineup and Notre Dame’s lead eventually evaporated thanks to Caleb Love catching fire. After an extremely quiet performance in the first half, Love scored 13 points to try and help the Heels dig out of the massive hole that they were in. They took a 67-66 lead with 3:33 left in the game, but it was short-lived thanks to…you guessed it: Nate Laszewski. He drilled two more three-pointers, and from there the Heels were sunk. R.J. Davis threatened a heroic comeback with a big three with seven seconds left, but they failed to steal the inbound pass and were forced to foul to end the game.
When looking at what went wrong in this game, the answer is both defense and first-half shooting. While Bacot and R.J. Davis were able to knock down shots inside the arc, shooting was cold for everybody else. The Heels went 1-9 from the three-point line in the first half, but managed to knock down seven attempts in the second. On defense, we are all left to wonder what this game would’ve looked like had Hubert Davis went to a four-guard lineup sooner. Having Leaky Black play the four worked out really well, as the lineup held Notre Dame to just five points in a little over six minutes. It was quite a position for Davis to be in, because on one hand: the offense takes a hit when Brady Manek isn’t on the floor. On another hand, having him and Bacot guarding the perimeter was as bad as it could’ve been, and Mike Brey had his guys hunt for mismatches. This game was truly a learning experience for everyone, which is a pretty big improvement over the losses against Tennessee and Kentucky.
The Tar Heels will now welcome the Virginia Cavaliers this Saturday at 1pm/ET. The Woos are having a “down year” and their defense was always a pain in Roy Williams’ backside, but we will see if Hubert Davis’ perimeter-friendly scheme is what the doctor ordered.