CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Notre Dame’s defense was good enough in the second half against North Carolina to give the short-handed Irish a chance to end the 14th-ranked Tar Heels’ long winning streak.
UNC managed nine points through the first 14 minutes of the second half as the Irish rallied from 14 points down to make a game of it, though the Tar Heels did enough late to hold on for a 63-61 victory Monday night. Still, it gave coach Mike Brey a positive to build on as the Irish closed the regular season.
It was pretty good, wasn’t it? Brey asked of the defense. We were really good, in position, and we played mostly a little bit of diamond-and-1 (that) helped us – but our man-to-man gave us a chance to win it. ... So there is something, I think, to build on there where we dug in a little bit better defensively.
The Tar Heels won their 12th straight despite matching their season low for a half with 22 points after halftime. They shot 41 percent (9 of 22), committed seven of their 10 turnovers and managed just one second-chance point in the second half. By comparison, UNC shot 50 percent and had 12 second-chance points in the opening 20 minutes.
Notre Dame held North Carolina to one field goal in the first 5 1/2 minutes of the second half as it opened the second half with a 22-5 run that erased the Tar Heels’ 14-point lead.
North Carolina’s James Michael McAdoo hit the go-ahead shot in the lane with 3:09 left and Marcus Paige blocked Eric Atkins’ driving shot on the final play to seal the win.
McAdoo finished with 14 points to lead the Tar Heels (23-7, 13-4 Atlantic Coast Conference). It is UNC’s longest winning streak since 2008-09.
It marked the second straight close win for the Tar Heels against a team in the lower third of the ACC standings, following Saturday’s 60-56 win at Virginia Tech. Still, they haven’t lost since Jan. 20 heading into Saturday’s finale at No. 4 Duke.
Atkins scored 21 points for Notre Dame (15-16, 6-12).
McAdoo’s basket started a 6-0 burst that gave UNC a 61-56 lead with 90 seconds left, but Pat Connaughton’s three-point play cut the deficit to two. Then, after Atkins’ driving layup with 8.6 seconds left, Paige – shooting 89 percent from the free throw line on the season – made just 1 of 2 with 6.6 seconds left to give Notre Dame one more shot to tie or win.
Atkins drove into the paint against McAdoo and Paige, but Paige knocked the ball away and the horn sounded to end it.
Notre Dame, playing without senior center Garrick Sherman because of a hand injury, closed its regular season with two straight tough losses. The Irish lost 85-81 at home to Pittsburgh on Saturday and won’t play again until next week’s ACC tournament in Greensboro.
Connaughton had Notre Dame’s first 10 points of the second half and finished with 17 points and a season-high 13 rebounds while playing with a sore left ankle.
Notre Dame led 56-55 with about 4 minutes left before Paige found a trailing McAdoo for the go-ahead basket. Then, after a turnover from Atkins, Brice Johnson scored inside to push the lead to three and fellow sophomore J.P. Tokoto hit a jumper to beat the shot clock for the 61-56 lead with 1:28 to play.
Tokoto finished with 11 points for UNC, which managed nine points through the first 14 minutes of the second half. Paige finished with just seven points on 2-for-8 shooting.
Notre Dame shot 54 percent from the field in the second half to erase the 41-27 halftime deficit.