North Carolina averted an embarrassing defeat again on Monday night, and escaped with a 63-61 victory against Notre Dame. The story about a game that left Tar Heels coach Roy Williams tired of winning ugly.
And some thoughts …
1. UNC won without its best, again, but those days might be over.
Williams is tired of winning ugly. His players are, too. And good thing, given the Tar Heels likely won’t have many opportunities going forward to win games like they’ve been winning them. UNC didn’t play particularly well during its 60-56 victory at Virginia Tech on Saturday. Same could be said for Monday night, too. This might have been the last time UNC could afford to play like it has the past two games and still scrape out a victory. The schedule becomes significantly more difficult from here on out, starting with the regular-season finale against Duke. After that, it’s the postseason.
2. Marcus Paige didn’t have his best, but still made a winning play late.
Paige finished with seven points – his second consecutive game in single digits – and he missed two free throws in the final 17 seconds, which allowed Notre Dame a chance late. Still, he played a significant role in the play that ultimately decided the game. UNC led by two in the final seconds when Eric Atkins, the Notre Dame guard, drove down the lane. Paige slid over and defended Atkins’ layup attempt, and got his hand on a piece of it. It counted as a blocked shot for Paige, who had blocked just five shots this season before last night. Last week, Paige won the game at N.C. State with a layup in the final second of overtime. This time, he helped win a game with his defense.
3. Ugly or not, the Tar Heels have their longest ACC winning streak in nearly 30 years.
Williams said he’s concerned by “everything” after the Tar Heels’ past two games. Even so, UNC won those games and it has now won 12 in a row. That’s the Tar Heels’ longest ACC winning streak since the 1986-87 season, when they finished the regular season 14-0 in the ACC. The ACC isn’t what it was then but who would have thought this kind of thing was even a possibility when the Tar Heels began the season 1-4 in the conference?
Just like in the first meeting between these teams, the Tar Heels held advantages in offensive rebounding and free throw opportunities. UNC scored 13 points off of 11 offensive rebounds, and the Tar Heels shot 10 more free throws (22 to 12) than Notre Dame. Even so, UNC went 10-for-22 from the line. Notre Dame wasn’t much better, and it went 5-for-12 from the line.
At Duke on Saturday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium. This game will likely decide which team enters the ACC tournament with the No. 3 seed.