North Carolina is a basketball school that has tried, at times, to be a football school. Notre Dame is a football school that is, at least at this moment, suddenly a basketball school.
Until Saturday, the proudest moment in Notre Dame basketball history was ruining someone else’s proudest moment: Ending UCLA’s 88-game winning streak in 1974. Forty-one years later, the Irish finally topped that, at North Carolina’s expense.
Back in South Bend, they’re going to have to rename the mural “3-Point Jesus.”
Notre Dame hit 10 of them Saturday to put away the Tar Heels in the second half and claim the ACC Championship with a 90-82 win, knocking off both Duke and North Carolina in the process.
The ACC Tournament’s last moment in Greensboro for five years was the Notre Dame team, under a basket freshly shorn of its net, swaying arm-in-arm as the band played the school’s alma mater.
And while Notre Dame forgot the trophy on the floor after the prolonged celebration – ACC executive Brian Morrison brought it to the locker room after them – Irish coach Mike Brey has big plans for it this summer, just like Lefty Driesell many years ago.
“I’m going to start in Asheville in June, with my Buick Enclave,” Brey said on the court, the net draped around his neck. “I’m going to drive Asheville, Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh-Durham, Wilmington, with this frigging trophy on the hood of my car, so everybody on Tobacco Road can see that (thing). Lefty said that. I was a Maryland fan then. He said that. I was like, ‘I love it.’ Now I can relate.”
The Tar Heels, trying to redeem a season that never quite met expectations, were trying to become the first ACC team to win four games in four days. Three before had tried. Now all four have failed. It might just have made the difference, too, because just when North Carolina appeared to take control of the game, it all fell apart.
The Tar Heels went on a 9-0 run out of halftime that erased a halftime deficit and energized a rowdy crowd, later running their lead to as many as nine. But Notre Dame was here because the Irish, if nothing else, will put four 3-point shooters on the floor and let them bomb away.
Notre Dame is the epitome of modern college basketball in that sense. The Irish start a 6-foot-5 guard at power forward, they have the fifth least-efficient defense in the ACC and they play at a quick pace that is, to say the least, not trendy these days.
But they can shoot. Can they ever shoot. And Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton, Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia shot their way all the way to an ACC title, going on a 24-2 run midway through the second half that left the Tar Heels bereft of answers.
“It was kind of a blur, but when we get in a zone like that, there is really no stopping us,” Grant said.
While North Carolina was undertaking the four-games-four-days quest, Notre Dame faced a task of perhaps greater difficulty. To win the ACC title, which Brey ranked ahead of both the UCLA win and the 1978 Final Four, it had to beat both of North Carolina’s bluest bloods, in Greensboro. Brey, a former Mike Krzyzewski assistant at Duke, understood that as well as anyone.
Four years in a row, a team from outside North Carolina has claimed the championship over a team from the state – the past three on this very floor – including football schools like Florida State, Miami and, now, Notre Dame, which has been in the ACC for all of two seasons, and not even in football.
“It is different, to say Notre Dame won the ACC championship,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “I think it’s just a changing culture.”
There was a lot of that going on, from the first Saturday night final since 1981 to the final game in Greensboro until 2020. The tournament is headed to Washington and Brooklyn now, with a newly anointed basketball champion from a football school far, far from the Atlantic coast.
DeCock: firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947