Home court is the most among the most precious commodities a team can have in college basketball, and in the ACC in particular, and North Carolina was without it, unexpectedly, on Sunday against Notre Dame.
The 16,000 or so who filled the Greensboro Coliseum, though, did their best to make the Tar Heels feel as though they were back in the Smith Center – especially during the final tension-filled seven minutes of UNC’s 83-76 victory.
By the end of it, UNC had prevailed amid some challenging circumstances: Playing away from home, along with a spirited Notre Dame rally and some questionable officiating that, at one point, left UNC coach Roy Williams punching the scorer’s table and stomping in front of his bench in anger.
UNC led by as many as 13 points early in the second half. With a little less than four minutes to play, and after senior forward Kennedy Meeks fouled out after two questionable charges, that lead was down to two points after V.J. Beachem’s 3-pointer.
UNC’s Joel Berry responded on the other end with a long jump shot that gave the Tar Heels a four-point lead, and then Justin Jackson’s breakaway dunk with less than 90 seconds to play put UNC ahead 79-73. That dunk came off of a turnover, and when Jackson released it through the basket he screamed.
So did a great many people who traveled to the Coliseum, the site of so many ACC tournaments, on short notice. In the seconds after Jackson’s dunk, it was as loud here as it has been during any of UNC’s home games this season.
Jackson led the Tar Heels (21-4, 9-2 ACC) with 16 points. Isaiah Hicks, the senior forward, finished with 14, and was one of six Tar Heels who finished in double figures for UNC, which shot nearly 50 percent from the field.
Notre Dame (17-7, 6-5), meanwhile, went about 3½ minutes without scoring after Beachem’s 3-pointer with three minutes, 47 seconds remaining. By the time Bonzie Colson broke that drought, the Tar Heels, who increased their defensive intensity in the final minutes, led 83-76.
With the victory, UNC remained in sole possession of first place in the ACC. The Tar Heels, who play at Duke on Thursday, are a full game ahead of Florida State.
The Tar Heels and Fighting Irish were scheduled to play on Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Smith Center. An emergency water crisis in Chapel Hill and Orange County, though, left UNC officials scrambling on Friday to find another host for the game.
The crisis happened for two reasons: for one, a major Orange County water main broke. That happened on Friday, the day after a water treatment facility had been shut down because too much fluoride made its way into the water supply.
By Saturday afternoon, county officials gave the OK to begin using water again but they still ordered customers to limit their use. UNC’s game against Notre Dame, meanwhile, had already been moved to the Greensboro Coliseum.
This was the first time since December 2014 that UNC played a regular season game in the coliseum. It was the Tar Heels’ first time here, period, since their 90-82 defeat against Notre Dame in the 2015 ACC tournament championship game.
UNC led that game by nine points with less than 10 minutes to play, but Notre Dame’s torrid shooting was the catalyst in its comeback, and its victory. There was no similar letdown on Sunday for UNC, which prevailed amid some unique circumstances.