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Notre Dame comes up short in season opener against UNC

| Thursday, November 7, 2019

The Notre Dame men’s basketball team began the 2019-2020 regular season last night in Chapel Hill with a 65-76 loss to the No. 9 ranked North Carolina Tar Heels. Despite the 11 point UNC victory, the game was very competitive until the halfway mark of the second half. Freshman UNC guard Cole Anthony was the difference in the game, as he put up 34 points and recorded 11 rebounds.

The game started out slow offensively for the Irish, as they could not get on the board for the first three and a half minutes of the game. The Tar Heels started relatively slow as well and their lead was only 6-0. Senior forward John Mooney kicked off the scoring for the Irish by hitting a jump shot from behind the free throw line. Mooney would hit another jump shot from the baseline two possessions later as well to get the Irish going offensively. UNC continued to widen their lead, however, going on a 7-0 run to take a 13-4 lead. The Irish battled back, though, and brought the lead down to 15-12 after two key three pointers by senior guard TJ Gibbs.

Annie Smierciak | The Observer
Irish senior forward John Mooney backs down a defender during Notre Dame’s loss to Clemson in Purcell Pavilion on Mar. 6.

With eight minutes to go in the first half, the UNC lead was once again extended to seven before Gibbs was fouled on a three point attempt. Gibbs would knock down two of three from the line. With five to go in the first half, Gibbs knocked down his third three pointer of the game to cut the Tar Heel lead to 21-19. Graduate student guard Rex Pflueger would make a free throw on the ensuing possession to score his first point since coming back from his injury. This was Pflueger’s only point of the night, however. Sophomore guard Prentiss Hubb would swing the momentum in the Irish direction with four to go in the first half, making a layup in transition and two three pointers to give the Irish a 28-23 lead.

Out of the under four time out, UNC freshman Cole Anthony would hit the first three of his college career. Anthony would continue to impress, drawing a foul on the ensuing possession to tie the game at 28 and halting the Irish momentum. The Irish would take some poor shots on the next two possessions, but the defense kept the Tar Heel lead to 2 at 30-28. Hubb made a statement three on the last possession of the half to give the Irish a 31-30 lead going into the half.

Both teams shot poorly in the first half with Notre Dame shooting 32.4% from the field and North Carolina shooting 31.3%. The turnover margin was key to the Irish grabbing the halftime lead, as Notre Dame only had three turnovers to the Tar Heels’ eight. Hubb and Gibbs led the Irish at the half with 11 points each. Anthony led the Tar Heels with 11 points and seven rebounds.

Gibbs would stay hot, in the second half, knocking down a three to get the scoring going for the Irish. Following a made free throw and transition jumper by Hubb, the Irish extended their lead to five at 37-32. Anthony would continue to have a big impact on the game for UNC, however, and would knock down a jumpshot and set up key baskets on the next two possessions for the Heels. At the under 16 timeout, the Irish led 41-36.

The Irish and Tar Heels would trade possessions and the score was knotted up at 48 apiece. Anthony took over the game from this point on, making a jump shot from inside the arc to put the Tar Heels down just two points 48-46. The Irish offense turned the ball over on the ensuing possession going into the under 12 timeout.

Both teams’ offenses came out hot from the timeout and Notre Dame led 52-50 before another three pointer by Cole Anthony to put the Tar Heels up. Then on the ensuing possession, Anthony would find junior guard Andrew Platek behind the arc to widen the UNC lead to 56-52 — its second largest lead of the game. After a timeout by the Irish, Anthony knocked down yet another three to widen the UNC lead to 7. The Tar Heel offense continued to stay hot and the pace of the game appeared to wear down the Irish, as UNC began to make some big baskets in transition. The Irish offense began to falter as well and with six minutes to go, the Irish trailed 65-59.

North Carolina would continue to widen its lead behind another pair of threes by Anthony, and with four minutes left in the game, the UNC lead was 71-59 and the game was all but over. Despite the large margin, the Irish would continue to play with high intensity for the remainder of the game, but when all was said and done, the final score was 76-65.

Hubb led the scoring for the Irish with 22 points, followed closely by TJ Gibbs with 19. Mooney also put up double figures with 10 points. Despite winning the turnover margin by 12 and recording 10 steals on defense, the Irish were not able to overcome their poor shooting. Notre Dame shot just 35.3% from the floor and 29.0% from the 3 point line compared to 45.8% and 50.0% for UNC. UNC also dominated the boards, recording 14 offensive rebounds to the Irish’s eight.

Notre Dame will look to get their first win of the year when they face off against Robert Morris this Saturday in the Men Against Breast Cancer Classic at the Joyce Center. The game will tip off at noon.

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