It wasn’t as easy as the final score suggested Monday night at the Dean Smith Center, but the 14th-ranked Tar Heels managed to grind out a 83-66 win over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish—using a determined second-half performance from senior wing Theo Pinson to seal the deal.
Pinson scored 14 of his 16 points in the final period, including nine over the final nine minutes of the game—a time span directly following a three-pointer from Notre Dame guard TJ Gibbs that cut UNC’s lead to just one point at 58-57.
His energy helped spur the Tar Heels (20-7, 9-5 ACC) to their fourth consecutive victory overall, and third in the last five days after defeating Duke last Thursday and NC State this past Saturday.
With junior forward Luke Maye limited to just eight points—the only UNC starter not to score in double figures—it was up to Pinson and senior point guard Joel Berry to do the heavy lifting in crunch time.
While it was Pinson who made the difference in the game’s defining stretch with his drives to the hoop, Berry did his part by scoring 12 of his game-high 21 points in the second half.
Both Kenny Williams (14 points) and Cameron Johnson (13 points) did their part on the offensive end for the Tar Heels early on, but with Notre Dame (15-11, 5-8 ACC) scratching and clawing to stay in the game as time ticked down– Pinson said it was advice from assistant coach Steve Robinson that motivated the team to raise its aggressiveness.
“We knew they were gonna keep fighting,” Pinson told reporters afterwards. “They knew we had played three games in five days so they were gonna keep fighting. We just wanted to go out there and keep attacking.
“I had a mismatch so I just tried to keep attacking the paint and see what could happen.”
As a team, UNC shot 53 percent from the floor while holding Notre Dame to just 38 percent.
Defensively, the Tar Heels also did a great job holding the Fighting Irish backcourt duo of Gibbs and Matt Farrell to a combined 4-for-27 shooting performance.
Despite those numbers, head coach Mike Brey’s squad was able to keep things competitive thanks to forwards Martinas Geben and John Mooney. Each player finished with a team-high 18 points, while Mooney converted on all six of his attempts from three-point range.
With preseason ACC Player of the Year Bonzie Colson still out with an injury, however, Brey needed all of his guys to be on their “A” game in order to pull off the upset—which is something he wasn’t quite able to get Monday night.
“When they’re playing well, and able to score, they can put numbers up so easy,” Brey said of the Tar Heels. “I thought the only chance we would have had in here tonight is to score in the 80’s and try and score with them. Not tonight.”
Although from the outside looking in it may seem tough to go through a span of three games in five days, Pinson agreed with Brey’s postgame suggestion that, if anything, the Tar Heels have seemed to find a rhythm because of it.
The smaller starting lineup that made its first appearance early in ACC play has slowly, but surely, carved out an identity for itself—putting the rest of the league on notice as the season winds down.
“You can just tell the group we start with, we’re meshing,” Pinson said. “We understand when we gang rebound and run, it’s hard to guard us in transition. We just wear you down.
“I’m not going to lie, I thought it was going to be tough for us to wear them down because we’re playing three games in five days,” he added. “But we ended up wearing them down. We condition for this type of thing.”
The Tar Heels will hit the road looking to make it five wins in a row at their next game, which takes place this Saturday against Louisville (18-8, 8-5 ACC). Tip-off for that one is set for 8:15 p.m.
- Roy Williams became just the fourth coach in ACC history to win at least 200 games in conference play (tournament included), joining Mike Krzyzewski (468), Dean Smith (422) and Gary Williams (210).
- The Tar Heels are now 10-1 this season when holding opponents to less than 40 percent shooting from the floor.
- This marks the 60th time in program history that UNC has won 20 games in a single season.
Cover photo via Todd Melet