Tar Heels Win One For The Seniors With 63-61 Triumph Over Fighting Irish
With the loss, Notre Dame dropped to 15-16 on the season and 6-12 in conference action.
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The Tar Heels raced away from the Fighting Irish early on with in-form play from J.P. Tokoto. Carolina claimed the 41-27 lead at the intermission with a clean performance, only committing three turnovers despite shuffling nearly the entire team on and off the court due to Senior Day tradition.
Notre Dame went on a 10-1 run to start the second half. Carolina only managed to score eight points in over ten minutes after intermission. The free throw shooting woes continued to plague UNC as the Tar Heels shot 45.5 percent from the line on 22 attempts.
The Irish claimed the 56-54 lead with 3:46 to play, but Carolina closed out the game in fine form with clutch shots by both Marcus Paige and James Michael McAdoo.
Impressively, after falling behind 49-46, the Tar Heel defense held Notre Dame without a field goal for seven minutes and 52 seconds.
“Senior Night is always emotional to me. It’s emotional for Leslie [McDonald] because he didn’t have the kind of game that he’s had recently. Those four seniors have meant a lot to us,” Head Coach Roy Williams says.
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McAdoo led the scoring charge for the Tar Heels with 14 points while Tokoto reached double figures with an 11-point contribution.
Pat Connaughton provided 17 points for the Irish, but Eric Atkins led all scorers with 21 points. Despite the impressive outings, UNC overcame and emerged victorious on Senior Night.
The opening tipoff was won by Notre Dame, but they threw it away to hand the ball back to the senior Tar Heels and McAdoo.
Wade Moody popped a three-pointer to the delight of the crowd. McAdoo scored on the ensuing possession to give UNC the 4-0 lead.
McAdoo scored and drew the foul. He knocked down the foul shot after the senior role players were all relegated to the bench following their ceremonial start to the game.
With 16:45 on the first half clock, Carolina held the 8-4 advantage. Meeks scored inside off a sharp McAdoo assist.
Austin Burgett knocked down a three-pointer to reduce the Irish deficit down to four points with 14:43 on the clock.
J.P. Tokoto drained a deep jumper, finding some space while the Irish continued to struggle on the offensive end with turnovers and sluggish play.
Atkins scored on a smooth shot to close the gap down to three, but Kennedy Meeks replied with a score of his own to push the Tar Heels ahead 16-11 with 11:48 to play in the half.
Joel James powered his way to the basket, making the shot and getting fouled. He made the free throw to give UNC the 21-13 lead with 8:38 to play before halftime.
McAdoo flung the ball through the nets as the Carolina offense was roaring along, shredding the Fighting Irish defense.
McDonald nailed a shot from behind the arc to give the Tar Heels a 28-16 edge with 5:30 to play in the half. Meanwhile, Atkins continued to be the one player for the Irish who was keeping them in the contest, knocking down another beautiful jumper.
Paige responded on the other end, matching Atkins with a three-pointer of his own. Tokoto’s athleticism was on full display as he weaved around a couple Notre Dame defenders with an electric score.
After another McDonald strike, Carolina had the 35-22 advantage with 3:01 left in the half.
Tokoto streaked to the basket again out of a timeout, making the shot and picking up a foul in the process. With 2:13 on the first half clock, Carolina held a 37-24 lead over Notre Dame.
Freshman Steve Vasturia pulled away for a made jumper, but Tokoto continued his offensive storm with a score for the Tar Heels right after.
At the half, it was Carolina with the 41-27 advantage. The Tar Heels shot 50 percent from the floor in the first half.
Tokoto was leading the way with 9 points while McAdoo contributed 8 points for the Tar Heels. But even more impressively, Carolina only committed three turnovers in a half where the entire team saw action.
Notre Dame, meanwhile, was connecting on 42 percent of its shots. Atkins produced a team-leading 10 points for the Irish.
Pat Connaughton drained a deep three-pointer to trim the Tar Heel lead down to 42-37 as the Irish were on an 10-1 run to start the second half.
Brice Johnson scored UNC’s first field goal of the second half, but the Irish offense was rolling now. Atkins scored on the other end. With 15:43 to play, Carolina held a slim 44-39 advantage.
The lead was cut down to three when Atkins hit another jumper, and a three-point snipe tied the game at 44-44 with 14:41 to play.
Johnson responded with a score to break the tie as the crowd drew back into the contest. Notre Dame was making everything they looked at from the floor, sinking another long-range three-pointer to claim the lead at 47-46 with 13:38 left in the game.
A big block by McAdoo came at the 12:05 mark with Carolina trailing 49-46 with 11:57 to play.
Nate Britt drained a deep jumper to get the Carolina offense out of its funk while the defense responded with a stop.
After a turnaround jumper that sunk through the nets by McAdoo, the Tar Heels were back on in front 50-49 with 9:42 to play.
***Listen to the call by the Tar Heel Sports Network’s Jones Angell***
Britt took a hard foul in transition that left him relegated to the floor for a while before he hobbled off the court. Hubert stepped in to shoot his foul shots, but missed both.
McDonald stepped out of bounds to commit a turnover, and with 7:40 to play, the Tar Heels were clinging to a 50-49 lead.
McAdoo got to the line and missed an ugly two free throws to the groan of the crowd. Paige darted into the paint and calmly floated in a shot that gave UNC the 52-50 edge, but Notre Dame answered right back to tie the game at 52-52 with 5:19 remaining.
Britt fired in a shot that regained the lead for the Tar Heels. Atkins nailed a jumper for the Irish to retie the game and then take the lead with a runaway layup by Vasturia that earned the 56-54 lead for Notre Dame with 3:46 to play.
McAdoo went to foul line, but only made one of two. The Tar Heels trailed by a point. But he made up for it on the next possession with a contested shot that fell through the nets in transition to give UNC the lead at 57-56.
Johnson followed McAdoo’s lead with a score and a foul after a Notre Dame turnover, but he missed the free throw. UNC led by three.
Tokoto answered the bell again with a clutch make that ignited the crowd with 1:15 to play. Carolina had saved its best stuff for the close yet again, claiming a 61-56 lead with 1:15 to play.
Connaughton worked his way inside for a score and a foul. He calmly sank the point after to close the Irish to within two points with 40 seconds left.
Paige was fouled with 17 seconds remaining. He knocked down one of two. But the Irish scored quickly on the other end and fouled Paige again. He missed another free throw to leave the door open for the Irish, but time expired, giving Carolina the victory.
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Next up for the Tar Heels is a rematch with No. 4 Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday night.
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