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The Journal Gazette

Monday, February 12, 2018 10:10 pm

No. 14 North Carolina 83, Notre Dame 66: Quick thoughts

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

How it Happened

After two straight games of sparkling offensive performance, the Irish (15-11, 5-8 ACC) hit a wall in the first half against North Carolina. TJ Gibbs and Matt Farrell, who had averaged 23.5 points apiece in wins over Florida State and Boston College, went a combined 0 for 13 from the field in the opening half, totaling only seven points, all at the free throw line. 

Still, Notre Dame was able to remain close thanks to the work of one player: John Mooney. The sophomore guard, who had one point on one shot against Florida State, went 5 of 5 from the field in the first half, with all five shots coming from beyond the arc. He finished with 15 points in the first 20 minutes, setting a career-high for made 3-pointers in the process. The Orlando native had as many field goals in the first half as the rest of the Irish combined, with non-Mooney players shooting 5 for 23.

Mooney's heroics kept Notre Dame in the game and his team trailed just 38-34 at the break. A balanced Tar Heel team shot 50 percent in the half, with both senior Joel Berry II and junior Kenny Williams tallying nine points. North Carolina (20-7, 9-5) led by as many as six at several junctures in the opening half, but was unable to put any real distance between itself and the rejuvenated Irish. 

The teams traded baskets early in the second half, with Martinas Geben scoring six points in a row to keep the Irish within striking distance. Farrell finally made his first shot on a jumper at the 18:12 mark, after 10 straight misses to open the game. The Tar Heels took their biggest lead of the night at 51-42 when Williams made a triple just after the under-16 timeout.

North Carolina went in front by double digits for the first time shortly after when Berry careened through the lane and scored with a foul to put his team in front 56-46. Notre Dame answered, however, as it had all night. Farrell hit his first triple of the night (following eight misses) and Geben followed with a jump hook that spun around the rim twice before dropping. The basket gave him 10 points in the half and brought the Irish back within five.

After a timeout, the Irish continued to creep closer. North Carolina led 58-51 near the midway point of the half, but Mooney drilled his sixth triple without a miss to get his team to within its halftime deficit and Gibbs followed on the next possession with a 3 of his own from the corner. Suddenly, Notre Dame was within one at 58-57 and the Tar Heels were reeling.

Still, North Carolina remained in front. The Irish had a chance to even the score when Mooney went to the free-throw line after getting fouled while shooting another triple. He missed all three free shots, though, and a few possessions later, UNC forward Denzel Johnson drove baseline and dunked the ball over Geben, drawing a huge cheer from the crowd, which had been subdued as Notre Dame climbed back into the game. The dunk was the third of five straight made field goals for the Tar Heels, and the start of a decisive 13-2 run that turned a two-point lead into a 13-point advantage for North Carolina with 3:53 left.

The Irish never got back into the game. Berry drove to the hoop and laid the ball in with his left hand to put his team in front 80-63 with two minutes left, essentially putting the game on ice.

Player of the Game: John Mooney

Even in defeat, Mooney was the best offensive weapon on either side. He shot 6 for 8 from the field and made all six of his 3-pointers, a new career-high. He also added six rebounds and a steal. The sophomore came in averaging fewer than six points per game, but his 18 tonight were a career-high, his fifth double-digit performance in his last seven games, after having one such game in his first 19 this season.

Facts and Figures

Notre Dame is now 1-5 against top 25 teams this season, including 0-2 against the Tar Heels. ...Gibbs (10 points) has scored in double figures in 14 straight games, a career-high stretch. ... Tonight was the first meeting in Chapel Hill between the two teams since 2015, when the Irish won there for the first time in series history. ... Senior Matt Farrell came in leading the ACC in 3-pointers per game at 3.1, but went just 1 of 12 from beyond the arc. Farrell and Gibbs combined to shoot 4 for 27 overall. ... Freshman guard D.J. Harvey missed his seventh straight game with a knee injury, while forward Bonzie Colson remained out with a broken foot. ... The Irish came in second in the ACC in free throw percentage at 76 percent, but shot just 12 for 23 against the Tar Heels. ...Notre Dame set a team record for most points in a two-game stretch over its previous two games, totaling 180, but shot just 38 percent from the field tonight. ... Berry led North Carolina with 21 points.

What's Next?

The Irish are back in action Saturday for a second game in two weeks against Boston College (15-10, 5-7), this time on the road at Conte Forum. The game will tip off at 4 p.m. and will be broadcast on the ACC Network. Notre Dame defeated the Eagles 96-85 on Feb. 6, snapping a seven-game losing streak. Gibbs had 28 points in that game, on 8-for-11 shooting from the field. The Eagles beat Miami 72-70 on Saturday and will play Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

dsinn@jg.net