Sans Garrison Brooks, sixth-seeded UNC (16-9, 10-6 ACC) breezed past eleventh-seeded Notre Dame (11-14, 7-11 ACC) in the second round of the ACC Tournament on Wednesday, 101-59. The Tar Heels completely handled the Irish inside, winning the rebounding battle 54-31 and getting a combined 50 points from their three most prominent big men.
With Brooks, UNC's senior forward and leader, out due to injury, UNC leaned on forward Day'Ron Sharpe, who had six points in the opening minutes, and forward Armando Bacot, who added a layup inside. At the first media timeout the Tar Heels held an 11-7 lead.
By the 11:22 mark North Carolina had already swallowed up 16 rebounds, a whopping 12 of them on the offensive end, on the way to a 19-14 advantage. The combination of Bacot, Sharpe and Walker Kessler combined for 11 of those boards to go along with 14 points, bullying the Irish in the paint.
An R.J. Davis 3-pointer just before the under-8 timeout stretched the UNC advantage to 13. To that point, the Tar Heels were just 2-9 from long range, but the difference was in the front court, where they continued to dominate inside to the tune of nine points for Bacot and eight for Sharpe.
At the break, North Carolina led the Irish, 50-36, having posted one of its highest-scoring halves of the season on an efficient 48 percent from the floor. Three players — Bacot, Sharpe and guard Caleb Love — had already cracked double digits, while 19 of the Tar Heels' points had come from second-chance opportunities and 32 of their points had come in the paint.
Not much changed in the second half, with an 11-0 UNC spurt stretching the lead to 23 by the 12:00 mark. Notre Dame, meanwhile, went nearly dead offensively, allowing the Tar Heels to grab full control of the game — at one point going on an eviscerating 42-4 run — and never look back.
Who stood out?
Despite missing its senior leader, the UNC front court was as dominant as it's been all season. Bacot finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds, while Kessler chipped in with 16 points, 12 rebounds and eight blocks.
Additionally, Love posted 15 points on an efficient 3-6 clip from behind the arc and Sharpe added 14 points and 10 rebounds. Prentiss Hubb and Nate Laszewski paced Notre Dame with 13 points each.
When was it decided?
The Tar Heels' mid-second half run put the game on ice and moved them to 2-0 against Notre Dame on the year.
Why does it matter?
With the win, North Carolina moves on to face Virginia Tech in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament.
Roy Williams' team also proved, one game removed from Brooks' Senior Night, that it can and likely will be just fine without him next season. With the trio of Bacot, Sharpe and Kessler all likely to return, North Carolina will again feature one of the deepest front courts in the country, a usual staple of great Williams-coached squads. For the time being, too, the Tar Heels will look to continue their dominant play inside for the rest of the postseason.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels face the third-seeded Hokies on Thursday at 9 p.m.
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