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Men’s Basketball

Tar Heels squash Irish comeback attempt

| Monday, February 6, 2017

Trailing by as many as 15 points in the second half, it looked as if No. 20 Notre Dame would make a run at completing a furious comeback when a V.J. Beachem 3-pointer cut No. 12 North Carolina’s lead to two with 3:47 to play.

But just like their last outing, where the Irish nearly erased a double-digit deficit at home against Duke, it wasn’t meant to be, as the Tar Heels pulled away for an 83-76 win Sunday afternoon in Greensboro, North Carolina.

After Beachem’s bucket, North Carolina (21-4, 9-2 ACC) had an immediate answer when junior guard Joel Berry II hit a jumper to stretch the advantage back to four. The Irish (17-7, 6-5) enjoyed three possessions with a chance to cut the game back to a one-possession affair, but none of them resulted in points. Senior guard Steve Vasturia turned the ball over, then missed a jumper, before junior guard Matt Farrell lost control on a drive with 1:33 to play. The Tar Heels corralled the loose ball; junior forward Justin Jackson slammed home a dunk; and the lead was six.

Irish senior guard Steve Vasturia inbounds the ball during Notre Dame’s 87-72 win over Fort Wayne on Dec. 6 at Purcell Pavilion.Ann Curtis | The Observer
Irish senior guard Steve Vasturia inbounds the ball during Notre Dame’s 87-72 win over Fort Wayne on Dec. 6 at Purcell Pavilion.

“We made a run at it, but Berry’s 15-footer was the shot of a big-time veteran guard who’s had a great year, to kind of stop any belief for us,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said.

By the time Notre Dame hit its next bucket, a junior forward Bonzie Colson 3-pointer, the deficit was at 10 with under 30 seconds to play.

“I’m proud of our group, we hung in there and gave ourselves a chance,” Brey said. “They’re really good; we knew we were gonna have to absorb some pounding in the paint ’cause we played small, we did that, and it helped us get back into the thing. We just couldn’t get over the hump.”

Notre Dame scored the game’s first bucket, a Vasturia jumper, but the Irish soon fell behind 9-2 in senior forward Austin Torres’ first start. Though they closed the gap to within a single point at various points in the first half, they never held the lead the rest of the way.

The Irish were plagued once again by a poor close to the first half — North Carolina led by just one, 29-28, with just over five minutes to play in the half, but the Tar Heels closed on a 13-6 run to stretch their advantage to eight at the break, a lead that moved to 11 at the start of the second half off a 3-pointer from sophomore guard Kenny Williams. That bucket gave the Tar Heels their first double-digit margin of the afternoon.

North Carolina used a balanced scoring effort to down the Irish — six Tar Heels finished in double figures — and overcame the loss of senior forward Kennedy Meeks, who fouled out on a charge with 5:14 to play. It gave the Irish an opening and, for a few minutes, it looked like one they might take.

“We opened the floor up [in the second half],” Brey said. “Playing small was the only way we were going to have a chance. We didn’t play two bigs, certainly V.J. got going and we rode it as long as we could.”

But there were to be no late-game heroics from Notre Dame this time out, and the Irish will head home on a four-game losing streak. It’s the first such streak since 2009, when Notre Dame dropped seven consecutive games in a season that ended in the NIT. The loss drops the Irish to seventh place in the ACC and effectively ends all hope of a regular-season championship, with Notre Dame three games behind a team it wouldn’t win a tiebreaker with.

Beachem, a senior forward, led all scorers with 20 points, while Farrell pitched in 18 and Colson 17 — the three highest individual scoring figures of the day. But Vasturia managed just nine and didn’t hit a 3-pointer, while Notre Dame was outscored 40-18 in the paint.

Due to an emergency water crisis on North Carolina’s campus this weekend, the game was moved from Saturday to Sunday and from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to the Greensboro Coliseum. The move off campus wasn’t enough to help the Irish snag a win, though.

Notre Dame will have a quick return to action Tuesday, when they host Wake Forest at Purcell Pavilion. The Irish tried to move the game to Wednesday, but the ACC office did not allow the change.

“Quite frankly, I’m disappointed that the game Tuesday wasn’t moved to Wednesday,” Brey said. “But I signed up for the ACC, so I’m a good soldier.”

Tuesday’s tip is set for 7 p.m.

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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.” At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer. A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa. When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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