UNC’s defense gives a performance to remember in limiting Notre Dame

You know North Carolina played well defensively during its 78-47 victory against Notre Dame on Friday night. But just how well?

Brice Johnson, the senior forward, said that UNC on Friday night played the finest defensive game of his four years.

“Defensively that’s probably the closest to our potential that we can get,” Johnson said. “That’s the closest we’ve been since I’ve been here.”

The numbers support Johnson’s assertion. Notre Dame shot 30 percent from the field – the worst percentage by any UNC opponent this season. The Fighting Irish averaged about .68 points per possession, which was, by far, its worst output of the season.

The Tar Heels also forced 17 turnovers on Friday night. That’s 15 more than Notre Dame committed during the only regular-season game between these teams – an 80-76 Notre Dame victory on Feb. 6 in South Bend.

In that game UNC didn’t score a point off of a turnover. The Tar Heels scored 13 points off of Notre Dame’s 17 turnovers on Friday night.

That would have been significant in any game. It was especially so against Notre Dame, which is among the best teams in the country at limiting turnovers.

The Fighting Irish committed turnovers, though, on 24.8 percent of its possessions on Friday night, according to kenpom.com. That was Notre Dame’s highest turnover rate of the season.

“Our defense was taking them out of everything,” UNC senior guard Marcus Paige said. “Everything that they tried, we were there.”

The Tar Heels could sense Notre Dame’s frustration building, especially during UNC’s decisive 18-0 run to close the first half.

“You could tell,” said Theo Pinson, the Tar Heels’ sophomore forward. “They were just out there dribbling the ball, just Demetrius (Jackson) trying to find somebody, and we were denying them.”

UNC dominated defensively throughout on Friday night, but especially with its smaller lineup. The Tar Heels used it after Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks picked up their second fouls with about 6 ½ minutes to play in the first half.

UNC went small, with Isaiah Hicks, the junior forward, as the only post player on the floor. The lineup allowed the Tar Heels to keep up with Notre Dame, which often uses a smaller lineup of its own, and generate transition scoring chances.

Before UNC went small, it led by one point. A little more than six minutes later, by halftime, the Tar Heels’ lead was 41-22. They’d held Notre Dame scoreless during the final six minutes of the first half.

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