North Carolina bounces back by ‘winning ugly’ against Notre Dame

North Carolina is slowly learning that nothing in the ACC will come easy.

Louisville, despite being unranked, taught the Tar Heels that on Saturday, handing them their fourth loss of the season. Notre Dame taught it to them on Tuesday.

This time, though, the 13th-ranked Tar Heels were able to pull out a close victory, 75-69 at the Dean E. Smith Center.

“I got my wish. I wanted to win one ugly,” UNC coach Roy Williams said.

It was a struggle at first. The game was tight, and Notre Dame (11-6, 1-3 ACC) went into halftime with a three-point lead. The Fighting Irish also led for most of the second half.

But UNC’s freshmen came through when they needed it. Down by one point, with about six minutes left, freshman guard Coby White hit a 3-pointer to put the Tar Heels up by two points. The Tar Heels got a defensive stop on Notre Dame’s next possession, and UNC freshman wing Nassir Little scored on a layup, while being fouled.

Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Little and White’s six combined points were part of an 8-0 scoring run that helped give the Tar Heels the lead for good over the Fighting Irish.

White led UNC (13-4, 3-1) in scoring with 17 points. UNC senior forward Luke Maye had 14 points and 10 rebounds. UNC graduate senior Cam Johnson had 11 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists.

The Tar Heels were coming off their worst home losses since Roy Williams had become head coach. Louisville took it to UNC last Saturday, 83-62.

The energy from the Louisville game appeared to carry over in their game against Notre Dame. The Tar Heels couldn’t stay in front of their man.

But a few big defensive plays in the second half seemed to turn things around for the Tar Heels.

No plays were bigger than the one happened in the second half with about 12 minutes left. Notre Dame freshman Nate Laszewski stole the ball and had it with no one in front of him. But UNC junior guard Seventh Woods chased him down and blocked Laszewski’s layup at the rim.

The crowd erupted after the block. The Tar Heels saved the ball, and Woods was fouled as he tried to score a layup on the other end.

Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

“When I (saw) him take the first two steps, he kind of slowed up as if he was by himself, so I knew I was going to get it,” Woods said. “I knew he didn’t know I was coming. And I knew I was athletic enough to make plays like that, so I went and got it.”

UNC had nine turnovers in the first half, and but only two in the second half.

Little came alive late in the second half. He finished with 11 points, all of which came after halftime. His layup and free throw with 5:40 left, finally gave the Tar Heels some breathing room.

“I think he was probably the key to the game,” Williams said. “I thought he was huge for us.”

UNC finished the game shooting 40 percent from the floor, while Notre Dame was 41 percent. UNC will next play Miami on the road on Saturday.

“We had to bounce back,” said UNC junior wing Brandon Robinson, who had nine points and three 3-pointers. “Coach always says his teams respond after losing, so that is what we had to do tonight. I think we did a great job of doing that, even if it was an ugly win.”

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Jonathan M. Alexander has been covering the North Carolina Tar Heels since May 2018. He previously covered Duke basketball and recruiting in the ACC. He is an alumnus of N.C. Central University.
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