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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC men's basketball squeaks by Notre Dame, 63-59, in must-win road game

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UNC junior Caleb Love (2) watches sophomore teammate D'Marco Dunn (11) take a free throw at the men's basketball game against Notre Dame on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023. UNC won 81-64 at the Dean Smith Center.

UNC picked up a 63-59 win at Notre Dame on Wednesday to stay relevant in NCAA Tournament contention. 

What happened?

North Carolina was off to a strong offensive start, putting up the first four points of the game and going unanswered for nearly six minutes.Graduate forward Pete Nance put up the first seven Tar Heel points for a 7-3 lead, but the Fighting Irish found rhythm on their home court to bring the game within one.

However, both teams struggled offensively. By the second media timeout, UNC was shooting just 19.0% from the field, with Notre Dame shooting just barely better at 21.1%. The Fighting Irish’s slightly superior shooting allowed them to take their first lead of the game at 16-15.  

The Tar Heels’ defense struggled to pose a threat and the offense continued to fall short, going 0-11 from three in the first half and having the lowest field goal percentage in a half since 1980. A two-pointer shot just after the buzzer ended the half on a low note for North Carolina. By halftime, Notre Dame led 27-19 in this low-scoring matchup.

Senior forward Armando Bacot put up the first points of the second half to lessen the UNC deficit. The second half saw significantly more offensive action from the beginning. In the first five minutes of the half, 19 points were scored, 15 of which came from North Carolina as they retook the lead at 34-31.

With 11 minutes left to play, UNC had put up as many points in the nine minutes of the second half as they had in the entirety of the first half. Yet, North Carolina trailed by three.

From there, the lead went back and forth, with neither team ever leading by more than three points after the 17:00 minute mark. The Tar Heels’ offense saw significant improvement, but the defense failed to lock in to hold back the Fighting Irish.

When one minute remained on the clock, UNC led by a singular point, but pulled out a close 63-59 win in the final seconds.

Who stood out? 

Nance aided the UNC offense early, with the team’s first seven points and nine of its first 11. After this, his offensive contributions lessened, and Nance finished the game with 11 points. Bacot was the true leader in this close win, recording a double double with 16 points and 11 rebounds. 

When was it decided?

Although the Tar Heels came out hot, this game was a back and forth for much of the first half. The Fighting Irish pulled ahead towards the end of the half, but their eight-point lead wasn’t enough to confidently determine that this matchup was decided. UNC proved this with a dominant offensive performance early in the second half that made the game close again. It remained close until the final buzzer.

Why does it matter?

UNC entered this matchup on a two-game losing streak and in serious danger of missing the NCAA tournament after losing five of its last six. Notre Dame entered on a losing streak of its own, having dropped its past five games. North Carolina had lost three straight on the road before traveling to Notre Dame and had won only two of its nine total road games.This road win proved significant to the Tar Heels as they fight for a place in the NCAA Tournament.

When do they play next?

The Tar Heels will return to the Dean Dome on Saturday to face off against No. 6 Virginia.

@lindseyashe_

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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