It took a great deal of good fortune, but the 20th-ranked Tar Heels escaped the land of the Fighting Irish on Saturday with a 69-68 victory over Notre Dame–after guard TJ Gibbs missed a pair of shots around the rim in the final seconds.
Needing to cover the length of the court with just over seven seconds to play, Gibbs—who led Notre Dame with 19 points in the game–took the ball into the lane and let out a floater which came up short.
He then rebounded the miss and tried again—watching as the ball seemed destined to fall through the net. It spun around the rim for a second, before somehow popping out.
While Gibbs and the Fighting Irish (13-5, 3-2 ACC) were stunned, the Tar Heels (14-4, 3-2 ACC) let out a collective sigh of relief after picking up their first ACC road victory of the season.
A late foul called on Gibbs, who was trying to keep Joel Berry from scoring on an offensive rebound, turned what appeared to be a sure loss into a chance at victory.
Berry calmly sank the two foul shots to put the Tar Heels ahead, and a little bit of luck on the other end prevented a loss against a short-handed Notre Dame squad missing its best forward and guard—Bonzie Colson and Matt Ferrell—due to injury.
UNC head coach Roy Williams found himself nearly speechless at his postgame press conference when trying to rehash what had just happened.
“I’m so befuddled right now,” Williams told reporters. “I was so discouraged. I’m dumbfounded we won the game.
“This is my 45th year of coaching, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like what happened at the end,” the coach added. “I’m at a loss for words. And that’s something my wife will tell you has never happened in 67 years.”
Berry’s free throws capped a 9-2 run for the Tar Heels, who held the Fighting Irish without a made shot from the field over the final five minutes and 58 seconds.
Gibbs hit two free throws to give Notre Dame a 68-67 lead with just 37 seconds remaining, but that represented the entirety of the home team’s offense down the stretch.
It was a back and forth game that saw neither team lead by more than six points at any time.
Junior forward Luke Maye led UNC with 18 points and 11 rebounds, while Berry finished with 15 points of his own.
Midway through the second half, it was do-everything senior Theo Pinson who sparked the Tar Heels—as he scored seven of his 13 points during a critical two-minute stretch. Pinson added seven rebounds and four assists as he joined Maye and Berry as the only UNC players to score in double figures.
Notre Dame shot just 35 percent as a team in the game, but converted 10 three-point attempts and grabbed a whopping 20 offensive rebounds to keep the game competitive throughout.
“I told [Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey] that I was so proud of his team, without Bonzie [Colson] and Matt [Ferrell] to play like that,” Williams said. “We were really lucky. That’s all I have to say guys.”
UNC will return home on Tuesday to face No. 19 Clemson, which has lost 58 consecutive games in Chapel Hill and has never won in the Smith Center. Tip-off for that game is set for 7 p.m.
- Notre Dame’s 20 offensive rebounds were the most that UNC has allowed an opponent to grab this season.
- Luke Maye had just five points and two rebounds in the second half, after carrying the Tar Heels for much of the early action.
- UNC guard Kenny Williams was limited to just five points, as he battled foul trouble. He picked up his fifth, and final, foul with just 37 seconds to play–allowing Gibbs to make the two free throws that gave Notre Dame the lead late in the proceedings.
Cover photo via Todd Melet