After seeing a halftime lead of 14 points dissipate in the second half, North Carolina was able to grind out their 12th straight ACC victory, knocking off Notre Dame. The Tar Heels were given plenty of leeway by the visiting Irish when, after climbing back into the contest, they went through long scoreless stretches at key moments, leaving the game in the balance and for the taking by Roy Williams’ squad.
The game was quite different from many of the recent Carolina victories, not only due to the closeness of the game in the end, but also by repeated stalling of the Tar Heels’ offense. It was the first game in recent memory where Marcus Paige was kept at bay by the opponent, especially in the second half. However, his contributions on defense, most notably on the final sequence of the game, after uncharacteristically missing two free throws, demonstrated the grit and leadership he brings to this team on both ends of the floor.
The story for North Carolina became the emergence of other players during the spotlight moments of the game. Finding contributions from James Michael McAdoo, who has struggled of late, establishing himself inside and working his jump-shot is a welcome sign as the Tar Heels approach the post season. In addition, they were able to get scores from both Brice Johnson and J.P. Tokoto late in the game to help seal the victory and show the variety of ways that their able to win.
Having now put all the weaker opponents in the win column, Carolina sets its sights on a big matchup with Duke on Saturday. The contest could see the Tar Heels finish above the Blue Devils in the ACC with another victory, as well as solidifying their place in the national rankings. One of the most storied rivalries in all of sports, the two teams will surely not disappoint when they meet in the final game of the regular season.