Tar Heels’ late-game ruthlessness dooms Irish
Alex Carson | Wednesday, March 30, 2016
PHILADELPHIA — Notre Dame tried everything.
It tried man, zone and a press. It tried going small and it tried going big.
But no matter what the Irish did down the stretch, they just couldn’t stop North Carolina.
When Notre Dame pulled ahead, 52-51, after a 12-0 run with 13 minutes to play, it had the Tar Heels on the ropes.
But North Carolina proved exactly why it earned a No. 1 seed a couple weeks ago.
“I give North Carolina credit, we made a heck of a run to take the lead in the second half and they answered with a big-time punch,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said. “They’re just playing really well right now.”
Senior guard Marcus Paige started it off with a jumper before sophomore guard Joel Berry II hit one of his own on the following possession.
The next time down, it was two Paige free throws, then a junior forward Isaiah Hicks tip-in, a sophomore forward Theo Pinson layup and a Hicks dunk.
The Tar Heels had six possessions, scored on all six and took a 63-52, stranglehold of the game.
Notre Dame would get buckets the rest of the way, but it was all for naught — because North Carolina wasn’t letting up at the other end.
The Tar Heels scored on their next seven possessions, running that streak to 13 consecutive trips with two points, before Irish sophomore forward Bonzie Colson finally secured a defensive rebound.
With 3:23 to play.
For nearly 10 minutes of basketball, North Carolina wasn’t stopped.
Colson’s rebound was the only defensive one Notre Dame got in the final 13 minutes. North Carolina grabbed eight offensive rebounds in that span.
“They pounded on us, they got second shots, they made big shots,” Brey said. “Didn’t they tip one in off the back of their freaking head now that I think of it? When something like that happens, you go, ‘You know, it’s been a good year’.”
In 19 full trips down the court in the final 13 minutes, the Tar Heels scored 37 points.
That’s ruthless efficiency from a championship contender.
“Our defense got a lot better,” Paige said. “We did a better job containing the ball and locating shooters and stuff. And then once we got in our rhythm and knocked down some shots, it was game.”
Irish junior forward V.J. Beachem didn’t hold back in his assessment of the Tar Heels.
“I think they’re the best team in the country,” Beachem said. “They’re playing like the best team in the country right now, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they go and win the national championship.”
His head coach agreed.
“My hat’s off to them,” Brey said. “They’re really playing well. I think they’re playing the best of anybody left.”
Brey said Notre Dame’s game plan was to keep it tight heading into the final few minutes of the game to put the Tar Heels in situations they hadn’t been in during the tournament.
But that never got a chance to happen.
“I love where we were, we substituted and went big and took the lead,” Brey said. “We just couldn’t get a stop. I think the biggest thing was we couldn’t secure a defensive rebound, they got so many second shots, which is what they do well. We get a few of those and maybe we get to game situations.”
Notre Dame’s starting backcourt, junior Demetrius Jackson and sophomore Matt Farrell, joined Beachem and Brey in praising the Tar Heels.
“They’re a great team, so we made a run and they weathered the storm and they just did a good job, so we tip our hats to them,” Jackson said.
“They just pounded us on the glass,” Farrell said. “Too many easy buckets, but it’s a great team, and we showed some signs of life but [it] didn’t work out.”
North Carolina played the final 13 minutes about as well as it could have hoped to.
“You just gotta tip our hats to ‘em, they just played a great overall game in every way — offense, defense, glass, everywhere,” Beachem said.