The North Carolina men's basketball team (11-5, 3-2 ACC) bested Notre Dame (8-8, 0-5 ACC) 81-64 on Saturday afternoon at the Dean E. Smith Center in their fifth conference game of the season.
North Carolina began the game hot, winning the tip and immediately taking the ball down the court to score on an open three pointer from junior guard Caleb Love. They continued this first-minute momentum, forcing a turnover on defense and following up with a dunk from senior guard Armando Bacot to lead 5-0.
However, Notre Dame was quickly able to find an answer and steadily creeped closer to UNC, who hit a dry spell after the initial minutes of the game. A combination of factors, including multiple missed free throws and an inability to capitalize on second chance scoring opportunities, led to a score of 10-8 in North Carolina's favor by the first media time out.
UNC remained cold following the time out, which allowed Notre Dame to take a 13-10 lead for the first time with 13 minutes left in the first half. The Tar Heels responded with strong defensive efforts from Bacot and first-year forward Seth Trimble that forced multiple turnovers from Notre Dame.
Using the defensive momentum, multiple UNC players began to capitalize on the offensive end as well, beginning with a three from junior guard RJ Davis to tie the game once more. From there, junior guard Puff Johnson was able to sink a three, followed in quick succession by a one handed dunk from Love that gave North Carolina its biggest lead of the game 22-18 with just over eight minutes remaining.
From there, the Tar Heels continued to dominate, stretching the lead to 13 with a score of 41-28 by halftime.
Bacot opened the second period with a strong drive into the paint for a layup, for the first points of the half. North Carolina and Notre Dame then continued to trade points back and forth throughout the early minutes of the second period, allowing UNC to maintain a 14 point lead by the 14 minute mark.
Notre Dame attempted a comeback after North Carolina starters Bacot and graduate forward Leaky Black had been taken out of the game, and were able to cut the deficit to seven with just over eight minutes remaining, before UNC was once again able to pull ahead by a double-digits margin.
This trend continued for the remainder of the game, culminating in a 17 point UNC victory.
Who stood out?
Bacot continued to shine, putting in a dominant performance in the paint and recording 12 points and 8 rebounds in the first half to extend the Tar Heels lead over the Fighting Irish in the first period. He tacked on 11 more points and 5 rebounds in the second half to record another double-double, and lead the team in scoring.
After a weak showing against Pitt, Love bounced back with an impressive performance, going 3-4 on three point shots in the first half, and being a key difference maker in the team’s momentum.
When was it decided?
The game was neck in neck throughout the first ten minutes of the game, but around the 12 minute mark of the first half, North Carolina was able to make several momentum plays back to back to gain a solid lead by half.
Notre Dame, despite several strong attempts, was never able to recover from this deficit, and trailed by at least seven for the rest of the game, ultimately falling to North Carolina.
Why does it matter?
Winning this game was a key factor in swinging the momentum of the season back in the Tar Heels favor. After snapping their four game winning streak with a loss at Pitt on Friday, it was essential for North Carolina to bounce back strong against Notre Dame, and regain a winning record in the ACC.
When do they play next?
North Carolina next takes the court on Tuesday, January 10 in Charlottesville to face-off against UVA. Tip-off is at 9 p.m.
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