Final Four Bound! UNC’s Win Over Notre Dame Provides Much-Needed Relief

After his team’s 88-74 victory in Philadelphia over No. 6 seed Notre Dame in the East Regional Final on Sunday night—it’s safe to say that UNC head coach Roy Williams might finally be able to get some sleep.

His top-seeded Tar Heels are headed to the Final Four for the first time since 2009.

The last four years have been a long–often draining–journey for Williams and his team, as they’ve dealt with issues both on and off the court.

Despite not having won a championship of any kind entering the year, this group of Tar Heels—led by seniors Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige–seems destined to win them all this season.

Marcus Paige (5), along with the rest of UNC's roster, can finally take the Final Four monkey of their backs. (Todd Melet)

Marcus Paige (5), along with the rest of UNC’s roster, can finally take the Final Four monkey of their backs. (Todd Melet)

That, more than anything else, is what has made this such an emotional run thus far for Williams.

“I’ve never wanted anything in my life for someone else as much as I wanted to get this bunch to the Final Four,” Williams said after the game.

“I’m corny. I’m old fashioned. I’m anything you want to say, but fortunately for me I was very lucky to have had some big time players,” the coach added–referring to his seven previous Final Four trips.

In the first half on Sunday, Johnson was the only big-time player Williams needed against the Fighting Irish—as the rangy 6-foot-10 forward showed off a wide array of NBA-level post moves and jumpers, scoring 15 of his team-high 25 points in the period.

The second half, though, provided an example of how Johnson has helped age Williams significantly in recent years.

After stretching a five-point halftime lead to 11, the Tar Heels allowed Notre Dame to take the lead with a 12-0 run—highlighted by Johnson’s technical foul, which he got for tossing the ball in frustration after being called for another foul he didn’t like.

Williams benched Johnson for a few minutes, but put him back in to help his teammates score on 13 consecutive possessions following the technical—a run dominant enough to put Notre Dame away for good.

“It was really dumb on my part to put my team in a situation like that,” Johnson said, following an apology. “Being a leader on this team I don’t want to do that and have myself not be in the game and hurting [the team] at the same time by getting a tech.

Notre Dame big man Zach Auguste was limited to just five points thanks to foul trouble. (Todd Melet)

Notre Dame big man Zach Auguste was limited to just five points thanks to foul trouble. (Todd Melet)

“But my teammates did a good job of just playing,” he added. “They really stepped up in a time of need.”

Each of the Tar Heels’ starting five scored in double figures for the second straight outing, as they rolled to yet another double-digit tournament victory—the team’s fourth in as many games this year.

That surely has made it easy on Williams, their notoriously invested coach with two bad knees, since he often likes to jump and squat during pressure-packed moments.

Instead he was able to give his players even more.

Lovable sophomore Theo Pinson finally got the press conference seat he so badly desired after he made a number of big hustle plays down the stretch, while Johnson and Paige each were taken out of the game to large ovations.

“With 34 seconds left I started tearing up,” Paige said. “Everyone was getting real excited, I was looking over at the bench and guys were jumping around, and my family was right behind the bench.

“I was just so overwhelmed and excited that I’m glad Coach took me out,” he continued. “Because I probably would have done something stupid.”

Williams stands with his team as they pose with the Regional Championship trophy. (Todd Melet)

Williams stands with his team as they pose with the Regional Championship trophy. (Todd Melet)

It was fitting in the postgame celebrations that Williams cut open his hand just like he cut open his tongue when he bit it during the first half of Friday’s game against Indiana.

He literally bled for his team to be able to get to the Final Four and experience what college basketball nirvana feels like—which in a way, is something he’s been doing for four years now.

And with just two more wins, this could go down as the best coaching job the 65-year-old has ever done.

“It’s been a tough four years in Chapel Hill,” Paige said. “But to come out on top with this group—how much scrutiny we’ve gotten, even as a one-seed, how many people have doubted us to not make it out of the first weekend or not be tough enough to win the ACC. A lot of people didn’t even have us in the Final Four, a lot of the experts and stuff.”

“We love Coach and Coach loves us,” he added. “We don’t ever want it to stop. It’s been a special ride.”

Up Next: 

A Final Four date with a fellow ACC team, the  No. 10 seed Syracuse Orange, awaits the Tar Heels in Houston. That game will be played Saturday April 4 at 8:47 p.m.

Game Notes:

  • Roy Williams’ eighth Final Four appearance puts him in fourth place on the all-time list behind only John Wooden (12), Mike Krzyzewski (12), and Dean Smith (11).
  • Brice Johnson’s 25 points and 12 rebounds gave him his 23rd double-double of the year–breaking Billy Cunningham’s school record for most in a single season.
  • Johnson also nearly matched the Fighting Irish’s rebounding total, as Notre Dame recorded just 15 the entire game thanks to UNC’s 61.5 percent shooting performance.
  • UNC is the only team remaining in the NCAA Tournament to have won all its games by double digits. The Tar Heels are also the last top seed left.

 

FINAL BOX SCORE

 

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/final-four-bound-unc-win-over-notre-dame-provides-much-needed-relief

Tar Heels Hammer Notre Dame 78-47, Advance to ACC Title Game vs. Virginia

After nailing his third three-pointer of the first half in Friday night’s ACC Tournament Semifinal against Notre Dame, UNC senior guard Marcus Paige said to himself, “I’m back.”

His 16 points and seven assists then helped the No. 7 Tar Heels crush the Fighting Irish 78-47; a win so dominant it showed Paige isn’t the only one that’s back.

So, too, is the team many predicted would win a national title.

The first time these two teams played was on February 6 in South Bend—a game Notre Dame won 80-76 after rallying from 15 points down.

The Tar Heels harassed the Notre Dame offense all night long, as they put together their best defensive output of the year. (Todd Melet)

The Tar Heels harassed the Notre Dame offense all night long, as they put together their best defensive output of the year. (Todd Melet)

That was UNC’s second straight loss at the time, leaving media and fans wondering if this team had what it takes to come through in big moments.

Fast forward to Friday, and the Tar Heels were the team imposing its will—putting together their most impressive performance of the season.

After leading 23-22 with six minutes until halftime, UNC took off on a game-changing 24-0 run that stretched into the second half. Paige hit two of his four three-pointers at the beginning of that spurt—including the one that sent all of Chapel Hill into a frenzy.

“It was just a matter of time before I got my confidence back and just played the way I knew I was capable of playing,” Paige said after the game. “Just relaxing and playing basketball again and trying to have fun.

“I guess you could call it the ‘old me,’ but I didn’t think I ever left,” he continued. “Even though I hadn’t been playing at the level I’d previously been playing at.”

Not only was Paige a key contributor to the run, but senior forward Brice Johnson—the team’s All-American—wasn’t even on the floor for most of the run thanks to foul trouble.

Isaiah Hicks put up 11 points and 15 rebounds off the bench after Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks ran into foul trouble. (Todd Melet)

Isaiah Hicks put up 11 points and 15 rebounds off the bench after Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks ran into foul trouble. (Todd Melet)

With fellow big man Kennedy Meeks also battling foul problems, head coach Roy Williams decided to go small. Isaiah Hicks, who finished with 11 points and 15 rebounds, played at center while four wing players surrounded him.

The result was a more active defense that held one of the nation’s top offenses to 30 percent shooting and forced 17 turnovers in the game. This after the Fighting Irish turned the ball over just twice in their win back in February.

“I thought our effort was there,” Williams said. “I thought we talked in the first half on the defensive end of the floor maybe better than we have any game since maybe the Maryland game really, really early in the season. And played the drive a little bit better.

“But again, I think we caught Notre Dame–I think their legs were a little heavy,” the coach added, referencing the Fighting Irish’s overtime win over Duke the day before.

UNC now reaches its fifth ACC title game in the last six years, while also taking advantage of an opportunity to get revenge on a team that had beaten them three straight times—including in last year’s conference tournament final.

Those previous defeats were on the players’ minds as they refused to let off the gas down the stretch, extending the lead to as many as 37 points before it was all said and done.

Joel Berry had 12 points, including a pair of three-pointers, in the game. (Todd Melet)

Joel Berry had 12 points, including a pair of three-pointers, in the game. (Todd Melet)

“It’s pretty fun when you know you’re playing well and clicking on all cylinders,” Paige said. “But you also know against a team that came back from down [15] to beat you that there’s a lot of game left—and it’s way too early to celebrate.

“So watching that film from when we played them at their place kind of engraved in our minds that we couldn’t celebrate early.”

Rather than face more tired questions about their toughness, the Tar Heels simply did what they know how to do.

UNC won the rebounding battle 49-31, outscored Notre Dame in the paint 40-10, and got double-figure scoring performances from five players.

The fact that Paige was back as the top scorer and playmaker—appearing to break out of a mental slump that’s haunted him for months–means the ceiling on this team may be limitless heading into the most important games of the season.

“We didn’t even play great offensively, I think we shot 43 percent,” Paige said. “But our defense is definitely peaking. We’ve turned the corner a little bit defensively these past several weeks–where we’ve been holding teams to low field goal percentages, doing a better job on the backboards, and not letting teams outwork us.

“We’re definitely hitting our stride, but I still don’t know what our peak is,” he added. “Which is probably a good thing.”

Up Next:

The Tar Heels will play for the ACC Tournament Championship Saturday at 9 p.m against the No. 4 Virginia Cavaliers.

Game Notes:

  • The margin of victory (31 points) was the largest in ACC Tournament Semifinal history.
  • One of either UNC or Duke has been in the ACC Tournament Final every year since 1996.
  • UNC legends James Worthy and Antawn Jamison spoke to the team in the locker room afterwards.
  • Notre Dame came into the game as the fifth most efficient offense in the nation, according to Kenpom.com. UNC held the Fighting Irish to 15-of-50 shooting from the field (30%) and 5-of-19 from three (26%).

 

FINAL BOX SCORE

http://chapelboro.com/unc-mens-basketball/paige-no-7-unc-hammer-notre-dame-78-47-advance-to-acc-final

No. 2 UNC Blows 15-Point Lead, Loses to Notre Dame

While shooting woes doomed the No. 2 UNC men’s basketball game in its loss to Louisville on Monday, another of last season’s critical issues—the inability to close out games—resurfaced in Saturday night’s 80-76 loss at Notre Dame.

Despite building a 15-point lead in the first half, the Tar Heels slowly fell apart down the stretch as the Fighting Irish (16-7, 7-4 ACC) rallied to hand them their second consecutive loss following a 12-game win streak.

Now 19-4 this year, UNC falls into a tie atop the ACC standings with Louisville—who banned itself from postseason play—at 8-2 in the conference.

Brice Johnson had 14 points and 14 rebounds, but it was not enough to hold off Notre Dame. (AP Photo/ Robert Frankling)

Brice Johnson had 14 points and 14 rebounds, but it was not enough to hold off Notre Dame. (AP Photo/ Robert Frankling)

The Tar Heels finished the game shooting 45 percent from the floor and 50 percent from three-point range, but head coach Roy Williams was not too pleased with the hustle stats.

“Their coach [Mike Brey] did a lot better of a job getting his guys to play with a great deal of intensity than I did,” Williams said after the game. “Look down there and see 19 points off turnovers for them, zero for us. Twenty-three second chance points for them, 13 for us. Thirty-eight foul shots for them, 21 for us.

“I’ve got to do a heck of a lot better getting our club to play with more intensity than we did,” he added.

Those effort plays crippled the Tar Heels on a night where senior guard Marcus Paige finally broke a six-game cold streak by scoring 21 points and nailing five three-pointers—the same amount of long-balls he hit during the entire slump.

Four of those threes sparked his team to the big lead that had them feeling like it had solved its one major issue.

The Fighting Irish simply outworked UNC the rest of the way–leaving Williams unable to explain what happened.

“Right now I don’t know if I can see my hand in front of my face, so I have no idea,” the coach said, after being asked if he liked his team’ intensity level in the first half. “I’ll look at it on tape.”

“It was easy early, and I’ve got a wonderful bunch of kids—but we’ve gotta decide that we wanna compete when it’s tough, not just when it’s easy.”

All five of Notre Dame’s starters scored in double figures, led by 19 each from guard Demetrius Jackson and forward Bonzie Colson. Colson’s partner in the frontcourt, Zach Auguste, had 15 points and 10 rebounds—including one on the offensive end where he grabbed the ball in front of four Tar Heels.

What’s impressive about these stats though, is that as a team the Fighting Irish made under 35 percent of their shots—or about as many as UNC made in its loss to Louisville.

The easy conclusion says the Tar Heels failed to show the killer instinct necessary when they had the chance to close this one out.

Notre Dame forward Zach Auguste dominated the glass all night. (AP Photo/ Robert Franklin)

Notre Dame forward Zach Auguste dominated the glass all night. (AP Photo/ Robert Franklin)

“Well, you know, the thing about it is—we can get up, but this is a tough league,” Williams said. “It’s not just about us. Notre Dame got up as well.

“The world’s not gonna come to an end, but right now I’m extremely frustrated.”

UNC junior guard Nate Britt sat out of the game with an illness, and it was clear the team could have used his defensive prowess and energy as the game wore on.

And although Brice Johnson picked up a double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds, no other Tar Heel had more than four boards.

All of these stats combined help illustrate just how unsettling this loss should be moving forward, but Williams refused to let his players take the blame.

“The head coach didn’t do a very good job,” Williams said. “That’s the bottom line.”

Up Next:

UNC will have a prime opportunity to end this losing streak in its next game–a road contest against the ACC’s last place team, Boston College. That game will take place on Tuesday Feb. 9.

Game Notes:

  • Notre Dame’s two turnovers are the fewest against a Roy Williams coached UNC team (previous was four on three occasions).
  • Thirty-one made free throws by Notre Dame were the second most by opponents against a Roy Williams coached Tar Heel team.
  • Johnson now has 14 double-doubles this season for UNC in 23 games.

 

FINAL BOX SCORE

http://chapelboro.com/sports/notre-dames-hustle-gives-no-2-unc-second-straight-loss

Walk-Off Homer Wins Series Finale For Notre Dame, UNC Swept For First Time All Year

In thrilling fashion, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish rallied from six runs down to defeat the No. 24 UNC baseball team 8-7 on a walk-off home run by pinch-hitter Kyle Richardson–in a game where the ball just could never seem to stay in the park–with the teams combining for seven long balls on the day.

Losing all three games in South Bend drops the Tar Heels to 13-13 in the ACC with a 30-19 record against all competition, while Notre Dame jumps to 15-12 in league play and 33-18 overall.

Sunday also marks the second time the Fighting Irish had to rally from three or more runs behind to defeat the Tar Heels this weekend.

Just as they did yesterday in the first game of the doubleheader, the Tar Heels homered in the top of the first inning to put the pressure on the home team.

Skye Bolt hit a grand slam for UNC in the second inning to put the Tar Heels ahead 6-0.  (UNC Athletics)

Skye Bolt hit a grand slam for UNC in the second inning to put the Tar Heels ahead 6-0. (UNC Athletics)

Sophomore right-fielder Tyler Ramirez followed up Skye Bolt’s walk with a deep drive over the wall in right center-field off Notre Dame starter Nick McCarty, spotting Carolina a two run lead before the Fighting Irish had seen a chance at the plate.

Benton Moss, the outstanding UNC senior starting pitcher, then worked a 1-2-3 bottom of the first to set up his team with a chance to extend their lead and take control of the game early.

Three walks by McCarty in the very next frame loaded the bases for Skye Bolt, who took full advantage of his opportunity–blasting a grand slam for his second home run in as many days.

Given a six run lead, everything seemed to be going in the Tar Heels’ favor, but Notre Dame first baseman Zak Kutsulis had other ideas.

A walk by Ryan Lidge and a single from Robert Youngdahl put two men on for Kutsulis in the bottom of the second, with the first baseman crushing a 1-0 pitch from Benton Moss over the fence–immediately cutting UNC’s cushy lead in half.

After the Tar Heels added one more tally in the third on a deep sacrifice fly by Joe Dudek which scored Korey Dunbar all the way from second base, their bats fell flat–getting no hits from the fourth through sixth innings– as the Fighting Irish chipped away at the lead with a few more home runs.

The Irish rally continued in the bottom of the fourth, when Kutsulis caught hold of another pitch from Moss for his second home run of the day, this one a solo shot with nobody on base.

More of the same ensued two innings later–in the Notre Dame half of the sixth–as Robert Youngdahl smashed a solo home run of his own, inching his team just a little bit closer.

Benton Moss pitched well, but allowed the Fighting Irish to swing their way back into the ball game. (UNC Athletics)

Benton Moss pitched well, but allowed the Fighting Irish to swing their way back into the ball game. (UNC Athletics)

Carolina head coach Mike Fox finally pulled the plug on Moss in favor of reliever Trent Thornton after the senior had finished the sixth inning having given up five hits and five runs, with all those runs coming by way of the long ball.

Thornton worked a perfect seventh inning, but like Moss, found trouble keeping the ball inside the park in the eighth and ninth.

A lead-off home run in the bottom of the eighth from Fighting Irish sophomore Cavan Biggio made it a one run UNC lead, and then Kyle Fiala tripled in the next at-bat before eventually scoring to tie the game heading into the final frame.

Failing again to provide a spark was the heart of the Carolina batting order–Skye Bolt, Tyler Ramirez, and Korey Dunbar–who each were set down by a pair of Notre Dame relievers in what turned out to be the Tar Heels final chance at the plate.

Fittingly enough the game would end on yet another home run, as Kyle Richardson took Thornton deep with two outs to seal the sweep for the home team–marking the first time all season long the Tar Heels have been swept.

Up Next:

A chance to recover awaits the Tar Heels on Tuesday night when they return home to Boshamer Stadium to take on the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks.

Game Notes:

  • Notre Dame has now swept two top 25 opponents this season, as they also swept Florida State earlier in the year.
  • The six-run comeback is also the biggest of the year for the Fighting Irish.
  • Skye Bolt now has eight home runs this year for UNC, which leads the team.
  • Cavan Biggio, who homered for the Irish in the eighth, is the son of former Houston Astro and MLB Hall-of-Famer Craig Biggio.

FINAL BOX SCORE

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/walk-off-homer-wins-it-for-notre-dame-unc-swept-for-first-time-all-year

Notre Dame Sweeps Doubleheader Against UNC, Takes Series

They played two games and 18 innings of baseball on Saturday at Notre Dame’s Frank Eck Stadium, with the Fighting Irish coming out on top of the No. 24 UNC baseball team in both legs to take the series win.

A late offensive rally helped Notre Dame take the first game of the afternoon by a score of 10-5, as they scored the game’s final eight runs–while pitchers Ryan Smoyer and Brandon Bielak combined to hold the Tar Heels to four hits in the nightcap, with the Fighting Irish taking the second game by a score of 3-1.

Sweeping the day’s games moves Notre Dame to 14-12 in the ACC and 32-18 overall. UNC falls to 13-12 inside the conference, with a 30-18 mark in all games.

Game One

The Fighting Irish snapped a 5-5 tie against the Tar Heels’ top two relievers, Trevor Kelley and Trent Thornton, by scoring five times in the bottom of the eighth to take control of the series with a series opening 10-5 victory.

Skye Bolt hit a solo home run in the top of the first, his seventh of the season, to give the Tar Heels the first lead in a game which they had every opportunity to come out on top.

Notre Dame tied the game in their half of the third inning against UNC starting pitcher Zac Gallen on an RBI fielders’ choice by left-fielder Ryan Bull, and then pulled in front in the fifth inning on a run-scoring single from another guy named Ryan–catcher Ryan Lidge.

Zac Gallen pitched well in the first game, but was let down by his bullpen. (UNC Athletics)

Zac Gallen pitched well in the first game, but was let down by his bullpen. (UNC Athletics)

After that, Bolt ignited a big Tar Heel rally, leading off the sixth frame with a walk, before coming around to score and tie the game on a double from freshman designated hitter Brian Miller.

The team in light blue did not stop there, however as they scratched across three more tallies in the frame, as they were helped by an error in center-field by Notre Dame’s Kyle Richardson.

Richardson’s blunder on Logan Warmoth’s fly-ball followed an RBI single by Alex Raburn, and let Raburn reach home with Warmoth advancing all the way to second.

When Warmoth came home on Eli Sutherland’s single, the score had been pushed to 5-2 in favor of the Tar Heels, with all of the momentum seemingly residing in the visiting dugout.

Then Jake Shepski happened.

Shepski, the Fighting Irish’s freshman designated hitter, hit a home run off of Gallen in the Notre Dame half of the sixth that turned the tide in favor of the home team. Gallen, who went 5.2 innings on the day and allowed three runs on five hits, was done after hitting the batter directly after Shepski.

UNC head coach Mike Fox made the move to senior Trevor Kelley (5-2), his most reliable bullpen arm, to try and hold onto the lead heading into the final innings, but Kelley was not able to keep the Irish off the scoreboard.

First he allowed a game-tying two run homer to Ryan Bull in the bottom of the seventh, and then he put the first two men he faced in the eighth on base–resulting in four earned runs for the Wilmington native, as Notre Dame converted on seemingly every opportunity they had against Kelley’s replacement, Trent Thornton.

By the end of the late onslaught, the Fighting Irish had come back from a three run deficit and scored in each of their last four trips to the plate to bury the Tar Heels into too deep of a hole to dig out of in their final turn at the plate.

Reliever Scott Tully (4-4) , who picked up the win by pitching the final 2.1 innings, finished the game off with a perfect ninth by striking out Korey Dunbar and Brian Miller before getting Joe Dudek to fly out to close the book on the day’s opening act.

Game Two

Right away Notre Dame jumped on Carolina freshman starting pitcher JB Bukauskas for two runs in the first inning, added another in the third, and then held on from there–behind the superb pitching of Ryan Smoyer and Brandon Bielak.

Bukauskas (4-2) walked the first two batters he faced before allowing Ryan Lidge to single home Cavan Biggio, striking first blood for the Irish.

Outfielder Robert Youngdahl then followed up with a sacrifice fly, which scored Kyle Fiala for the second run of the inning.

JB Bukauskas, on the other hand, struggled in his start. (UNC Athletics)

JB Bukauskas, on the other hand, struggled in his start. (UNC Athletics)

For the day Bukauskas would last for just three innings, surrendering three runs on four hits as he struggled with his control–walking five batters as well.

Alex Raburn’s sacrifice fly in the fourth inning off of Smoyer (7-0) served as the only offense the Tar Heels could muster in the second leg of the doubleheader, with the team struggling to get anything going all night long.

Smoyer would pitch the first six innings before being relieved by Brandon Bielak, who pitched just as well, as neither man gave up more than two hits.

Following Raburn’s RBI, Carolina received a single from Eli Sutherland in the seventh and another from Joe Dudek in the ninth, but were otherwise completely shut down against the powerful Notre Dame pitching staff.

On the bright side for UNC, the unheralded bullpen trio of Hansen Butler, Spencer Trayner, and lefty Zach Rice combined to throw the final five innings without ceding any more offense to the Irish, giving up no runs on just three hits in that time frame.

Up Next:

The Tar Heels will look to avoid the series sweep on Sunday with senior Benton Moss going to the mound to face-off with Notre Dame’s Nick McCarty. First pitch for that game is scheduled for 1 p.m. and will be broadcast on WCHL and ESPN3.

Doubleheader Notes:

  • This was the first time Notre Dame and UNC have met as ACC opponents.
  • Notre Dame leads the nation in fielding double plays.
  • The Tar Heels have now lost three of their past six games after previously winning 12 of 14.

GAME ONE BOX SCORE

GAME TWO BOX SCORE

 

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/notre-dame-sweeps-doubleheader-against-unc-takes-series

UNC’s Hot Hitting to be Tested at Notre Dame

With bats starting to round into form after two blowout wins during the week, the No. 24 UNC baseball team will face a stiff test this weekend when it travels to South Bend to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who sit at 12-12 in the ACC, but hold an impressive 30-18 mark against all competition.

The Tar Heels, meanwhile, are scorching right now, having won 14 of their last 17 games to improve their record to 31-16, and 13-10 inside the conference.

Something will have to give when these two teams meet on the diamond. The Fighting Irish boast a staunch team pitching ERA of 2.99, while Carolina has scored 25 runs in its last two outings.

Notre Dame's pitching staff has been one of the best in the nation this season, from top to bottom.(ndsmcobserver.com)

Notre Dame’s pitching staff has been one of the best in the nation this season, from top to bottom.(ndsmcobserver.com)

Tar Heel center-fielder Skye Bolt, who is tied for the team lead with six home runs, says his team can’t take anything for granted against this hard-nosed Notre Dame team.

“[Notre Dame’s] a rowdy bunch–a rowdy, scrappy, hard-nosed team. [They’re] new to the conference [and] out to prove themselves that they can play ball, and they’ve done that thus far,” Bolt says.

“They’ve got a real good record, they’ve been playing really good baseball, and they can pitch really well, so we’re gonna have to go out there with the same approach that we’ve had–take our walks, but still being aggressive, what we like to call a ‘yes’ hitter [looking to swing] until the ball is out of the zone.”

UNC head coach Mike Fox has long been critical of his team’s offense this season, and is hesitant to say his team has fixed their woes in that area, at least until he sees what they can produce this weekend against the tough Fighting Irish pitching staff.

“We’re gonna find out this weekend,” Fox says about how much progression his bats have made, “Notre Dame’s pitching numbers are scary good, we’re playing on turf, and they’ve turned almost 60 double plays [this season]. I’ve heard all kinds of stories [about playing] up there.”

Three low-scoring games are expected for this series, which could make Coach Fox’s decision to limit senior starter Benton Moss’s pitch count on Tuesday very important, especially if the rainy forecast holds up–potentially forcing the teams to play a double-header on Saturday.

“We weren’t gonna throw [Moss] past five innings no matter what [on Tuesday], Fox says, “[Even] if the score had been close. If we’d been behind he might have thrown less, but [five innings] was enough.”

Benton Moss will be ready to go this weekend, no matter the weather. (UNC Athletics)

“He’s got four days rest and he’s [scheduled] to throw again, and with rain [forecasted] up there, we don’t know what we’re gonna do. We gotta always be careful because we could end up playing a single [game] on Friday and two [games] on Saturday if they’re calling for rain Sunday. So we probably didn’t want to throw [Moss] more than 50 pitches, actually.”

In that Tuesday start against UNC-Asheville, Moss picked up his seventh victory of the season while throwing 64 pitches across five innings, surrendering just one run in the process.

Sophomore Zac Gallen (3-3, 2.84 ERA) will take the mound on Friday for the Tar Heels to begin the series, and he’ll likely face-off with Notre Dame’s Ryan Smoyer, who is 6-0 on the season with a 2.56 ERA. First pitch for the opener is set for 7 p.m.

http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/tar-heels-hot-hitting-tested-notre-dame

26-3 Second Half Irish Surge Dooms Tar Heels

Up 63-54 with 9:59 remaining, the rug was pulled out from under the Tar Heels.

The No. 5 seed North Carolina men’s basketball team fell to third-seeded Notre Dame, 90-82, Saturday night in the ACC Tournament championship game at the Greensboro Coliseum.

***Listen to the story***

Justin Jackson struggled to recapture his Friday form (Todd Melet)

Justin Jackson struggled to recapture his Friday form (Todd Melet)

A 26-3 second half run from the Fighting Irish turned the tables in the league newcomer’s favor – giving them their first ACC title and leaving the Tar Heels the disappointed runner-up for the third time in the last four years.

“I love how fearless we are when we step up and take big-time shots. We’ve done that all year though. We really have,” Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey says.

Tournament MVP Jerian Grant finished with 24 points and 10 assists to lead an overwhelmingly balanced offensive attack for the Irish.

Fellow senior Pat Connaughton tallied 20 points, including four pure shots from behind the arc.

“That was a big-time game for about 30, 32 minutes, and then after that it was a big game if you were a Notre Dame fan. It wasn’t for us,” UNC head coach Roy Williams says.

As for the Tar Heels, junior guard Marcus Paige did all he could, posting 24 points, including five of UNC’s seven made three-pointers.

Paige says despite leaving Greensboro without a trophy, his teammates  aren’t going away empty-handed.

Paige did his best to keep the Tar Heels in it (Todd Melet)

Paige did his best to keep the Tar Heels in it (Todd Melet)

“I think we showed a lot of heart this week. We battled four straight times. Obviously, it didn’t go the way we wanted it to today. You know, we were going after 50-50 balls with everything we had. So people can say what they want, but the proof is in the fact that we competed at the highest level this past week,” Paige says.

But what may have been the most decisive factor to the outcome was the foul shooting discrepancy. The Irish got to the free throw line for a whopping 32 attempts while the Heels managed a mere seven shots from the charity stripe.

In the first half, the three-point shooting discrepancy told the tale. The Irish knocked down five of their eleven attempts while the Heels only managed to connect on one of their eight tries.

Additionally, getting to the free throw line was a factor in Notre Dame’s 39-34 lead at intermission. The Irish shot 11 foul shots to Carolina’s measly 2 attempts.

Brice Johnson finished with 20 points and four rebounds (Todd Melet)

Brice Johnson finished with 20 points and four rebounds (Todd Melet)

Things were going smoothly for the Tar Heels early in the second half. UNC led 63-54 with 9:59 remaining. But from there, the rug was taken out from under them. Carolina froze. Notre Dame rose.

The Irish left the Heels in the dust with a 26-3 run that seized full control of the contest and in turn, earned the program’s first ever conference championship.

The Carolina faithful were sent home to various corners of the Tar Heel State unhappy. The few Notre Dame fans were left to bask in their team’s historic performance, becoming just the third program to ever beat both Duke and Carolina on the way to an ACC Tournament championship held in North Carolina.

Notre Dame (29-5) and Carolina (24-11) will now await their NCAA Tournament placements Sunday evening.

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PHOTO GALLERY

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Notre Dame Trumps UNC, Now 2-2 in ACC

The No. 12 North Carolina women’s basketball team knew the importance of playing No. 7 Notre Dame, especially at home.

It was the Tar Heels’ chance at cementing a spot atop the ACC, and it was a chance to win a statement game that would have sent a signal to the rest of the nation. Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, that chance was missed.

In an emotional loss, Carolina fell to the Fighting Irish, 89-79, at home on Thursday, to drop to an even 2-2 mark in the ACC and 15-3 overall. Notre Dame improved to 16-2 and 4-1 in the conference.

With two very skilled teams, Thursday’s contest came down to a matter of toughness. The game included 11 ties and four lead changes, and Notre Dame fought hard to try to kick-start their next attempt at a 30-plus away game streak that was snapped earlier this month in a loss at Miami.

“Well, we’re extremely disappointed. So that’s about all I can say. Turner was tough. I thought we made a good run at them, and got it down to one point, but just didn’t have enough fire power, I guess. I guess that’s why she was the best player coming out last year because she was tough. [Lindsay] Allen was really tough up there, too. We’ll just regroup and move on,” UNC head coach Sylvia Hatchell says.

UNC forward Stephanie Mavunga wasn’t her usual self offensively, finishing with 6 points and 7 rebounds, and with junior forward Xylina McDaniel out indefinitely, Carolina struggled defensively in the paint.

Notre Dame star Brianna Turner had a stat-stuffing night, finishing with career highs in points and rebounds, 29 and 18, and tying her career high in blocks with 7 swats.

Jewell Loyd, Notre Dame’s usual go-to scorer, hasn’t had a night where she scored under ten points in 60 games, but that was cut tonight as she finished with only 8 points in 36 minutes. Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw knew Loyd would was knocked off of her game by an illness, but says she was proud of how her team rallied without her.

Carolina’s largest lead came with less than five minutes to play in the first half. The Tar Heels were up eleven points, but three minutes later, the game had already been tied back up by the surging Fighting Irish.

Turner continued to dominate well into the second half, and guard Lindsay Allen made a great contribution to Notre Dame’s offense from the backcourt to finish with a career high 24 points and 9 assists.

UNC went on a run late in the game to close a 14 point deficit. Allisha Gray came alive for the Tar Heels in the second half, scoring 16 points to finish with 20. Just when Carolina came within one point, a string of unfavorable calls for the Tar Heels got Coach Hatchell riled up, and many players in foul trouble.

Jessica Washington and Latifah Coleman each got off a few last second three-point attempts, but none fell, and Notre Dame finished with a victory that left Carolina heartbroken.

Muffet McGraw is now 4-1 all time against Hatchell’s North Carolina team.

But Coach Hatchell vows to make amends soon.

“I thought the effort was good. We had trouble keeping people out there, but I thought we played hard. We just didn’t get it done enough. We’ll keep working. We’ll get them eventually. Trust me, we’ll get them eventually,” Coach Hatchell says.

Up next for the Tar Heels are two away games against Clemson and NC State, before returning to Carmichael in ten days to play rival Duke.

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http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/notre-dame-trumps-unc-now-2-2-acc

Tar Heels Edged By Sharp-Shooting Fighting Irish

The No. 18 North Carolina men’s basketball team fell to No. 13 Notre Dame 71-70 Monday night inside the Smith Center to fall to 11-4 on the season and 1-1 in ACC play.

***Listen to the story***

With the victory, the Fighting Irish improved to 15-1 overall and a 3-0 mark in conference. The Tar Heels are now 5-2 at the Smith Center this year.

The Irish shot 46 percent from the floor and got 18 points from junior forward Zach Auguste to lead all scorers.

Despite the ‘lights out’ shooting from the nation’s leading team in field goal percentage, the Tar Heels clawed all the way back to claim a 70-69 lead late in the contest. But from there, Carolina would rue missing its final eight shots.

“Kennedy [Meeks] had two looks inside and that’s where I keep talking about he’s got to get more explosive because he just didn’t have much lift at that point. We missed a lot of shots. We had some good ones. We didn’t make many , or we didn’t make enough – that’s for sure,” UNC head coach Roy Williams says.

***Listen to Roy Williams’ postgame remarks***

As a team, UNC shot at a 36.9-percent clip overall and knocked down a mere 25 percent of their three-point attempts.

Theo Pinson fights for space inside (Todd Melet)

Theo Pinson fights for space inside (Todd Melet)

Junior point guard Marcus Paige led UNC with 15 points but missed the final potential game-winning shot with four defenders blanketing him.

J.P. Tokoto opened the scoring proceedings for the Tar Heels with the first two baskets for the home team that ignited the Dean Dome crowd.

But the Irish came out firing early, knocking down shots with ease to stake out a 10-6 lead with 16:33 on the first half clock.

***Click here for the full game photo gallery***

At one point, the Irish even stretched their advantage out to a full 10 points midway through the first 20 minutes of play with imperious shooting.

Isaiah Hicks goes up to the basket (Todd Melet)

Isaiah Hicks goes up to the basket (Todd Melet)

Notre Dame sharpshooter Demetrius Jackson lit it up in the first half, draining five of his seven attempts and tallying 12 points.

But a pair of 6-0 runs by UNC helped the Tar Heels close the halftime deficit down to a more manageable 38-34 margin.

With a more invigorated defense that was contesting every Notre Dame shot and 10 points of production out of Paige, the Tar Heels flipped the momentum heading into the locker room.

Carolina came out with intensity in the second half, and a fortuitous bounce off the basket from a Tokoto three-point attempt allowed the ball to sink through the nets to the delight of the crowd.

Big man Kennedy Meeks picked u his fourth foul just a few minutes into the second half and promptly took a seat on the bench.

Meanwhile, the prolific Irish attack was soaring, making shots from everywhere on the floor to hold the Tar Heels at bay and rebuild the advantage out to nine with 15:15 to play.

Notre Dame senior Pat Connaughton got the hot hand in the second half, but it was UNC freshman Theo Pinson who provided a much-needed boost off the bench to a waning Carolina attack.

With 11:51 to go in the contest, Notre Dame held a 57-49 edge.

Carolina huddle (Todd Melet)

Carolina huddle (Todd Melet)

Up until late, the Irish hadn’t missed a single free throw. That all changed when normally reliable Connaughton missed not one, but both free throws.

In typical Paige style, he popped a three-pointer on the other end to change the momentum of the game once again heading down the stretch. The Tar Heels trailed 69-68 with 3:09 to play.

But despite Notre Dame missing free throws the rest of the way, Carolina couldn’t muster enough offensive production, missing their final eight shots, to seize victory and when the buzzer sounded on a final Paige three-point heave, the game came to a close.

“Man, I’m proud of our group. We held off a lot of runs and did what we needed to do to escape, but [it was] a tough situation. I thought we were really poised. Every time they made a run we came out and executed and gave us a little bit of a cushion, and we needed all that cushion down the stretch,” Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey says.

Next up for the Tar Heels comes another high-powered ACC matchup with the No. 5 Louisville Cardinals traveling to Chapel Hill Saturday.

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http://chapelboro.com/unc-mens-basketball/tar-heels-edged-sharp-shooting-fighting-irish

Carolina, Notre Dame Square Off On ‘Big Monday’

The No. 19 North Carolina men’s basketball team, 11-3 on the season and 1-0 in conference play, looks to build off the momentum of a road win at Clemson by defending its home court Monday night in an ACC battle with No. 14 Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish come in sporting a 14-1 record and 2-0 mark in league action.

***Listen to the story***

For the first time in a while, UNC head coach Roy Williams was pleased with his team’s play Saturday night in the runaway victory at Littlejohn Coliseum.

The team cheers from the sidelines (Todd Melet)

The team cheers from the sidelines (Todd Melet)

“The last part of the first half, I thought we were really good. That’s probably the best that we’ve played over the course of the season. We shared the ball, we didn’t turn it over, we got good shots, we made shots, and we got some stops at the defensive end of the floor,” Coach Williams says.

Having dropped their past two ACC openers, Coach Williams says the Tar Heels were extra motivated not to let history repeat itself.

“Everybody kept reminding us that we lost the conference opener two years in a row, so we wanted to make sure we didn’t do that. We wanted to play, and I think we played well,” Coach Williams says.

Monday’s opponent, Notre Dame, is leading the nation in effective field goal percentage at 63, including a 40.4-percent park from behind the arc.

Going up against one of the hottest-shooting teams in the country, UNC will be looking for freshman Justin Jackson to continue to produce on the offensive end.

Coach Williams says Jackson’s confidence grows when he can find the net early on in games, like he did against Clemson.

“Justin was really good in the first half in the last game as well. It helps his confidence that the ball is going in the basket a little bit more. He’s going to be a good scorer, and I think he’s a good shooter. He can score the ball and does some good things,” Coach Williams says.

Notre Dame players will be hungry for a road win Monday night (Collegesportsmadness.com)

Notre Dame players will be hungry for a road win Monday night (Collegesportsmadness.com)

Carolina leads the ACC in offensive rebounding percentage at 44 percent – good enough for third nationally. That’s a trend Coach Williams would like to see continue against the Irish.

“We didn’t shoot it great in the second half ourselves. I think the back boards, you can’t say that one area is more important by far than everything, but I happen to like the rebounding as a key thing for me. I think we did some good things there,” Coach Williams says.

Another encouraging sign for the Tar Heels is they’re playing cleaner. Saturday night, Carolina committed just six turnovers, tying its fewest in 12 seasons under Coach Williams.

The Tar Heels would do well to limit the turnovers against the offensively efficient Irish, who are coming off a thrilling double-overtime victory over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

UNC leads the head-to-head series with Notre Dame 18-4 and won the most recent meeting 63-61 last March in Chapel Hill.

http://chapelboro.com/unc-mens-basketball/carolina-notre-dame-square-off-big-monday