SOUTH BEND – Roy Williams wasn't concerned about style points after No. 20 North Carolina beat Notre Dame for its first Atlantic Coast Conference road victory of the season.
“I feel the luckiest I've ever felt after the last minute of a basketball game,” Williams said after the 69-68 victory Saturday night. “Joel Berry gets fouled and makes two free throws when you're down one. My frustration button is at a very high level right now.”
Berry II, saddled with three fouls in the first half, made two free throws with 7.1 seconds left for the winning points. But the Tar Heels (14-4, 3-2) allowed Notre Dame sophomore point guard T.J. Gibbs to dribble the length of the floor, get off a shot, rebound the miss and send the ball inside the cylinder before it, too, spun out at the buzzer.
Berry finished with 15 points, and Luke Maye had his 10th double-double of the season with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Theo Pinson added 13 points, and North Carolina finished with a 9-2 run while holding the Irish (13-5, 3-2 without a field goal in the last 5:58.
Gibbs, who scored both of those points for Notre Dame on free throws with 37 seconds remaining for a brief 68-67 lead, finished with a game-high 19 points and six assists for Notre Dame, which got 14 points from senior Martinas Geben and a career-high 12 points from sophomore reserve Nikola Djogo.
“Man, I feel for our guys – we battled so hard,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “It's a tough one to swallow because you feel like you're going to get it.”
The Irish, playing without injured starters Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell, used an eight-man rotation that frustrated Williams' Tar Heels, who shot just 42.6 percent (26 of 61) and were outrebounded 45-37 by the Irish. Geben's nine included seven off the offensive boards. Notre Dame shot just 34.8 percent (23 of 66) from the field but stayed in it with timely 3-pointers (10 of 24) that included the first ever of the 6-foot-10 Geben's career.
“I thought they played harder than us, they played smarter than us,” Williams said. “Even on the last play, we did a good job defending the shot, but we didn't box him (Gibbs) out. I told Michael (Brey) I was so proud of his team.”
The game was close right from the opening tip, with neither team able to pull away by more than six points. There were 24 lead changes, and the game was tied 12 times.
The Tar Heels led 40-37 at halftime.
Geben scored four points, had two offensive boards and took a charge as Notre Dame started the second half on an 11-7 run for a 48-47 lead with 14:40 to play.
After five straight points by Pinson gave the Tar Heels a 56-50 lead with 9:48 to play, Notre Dame called a timeout.
A 10-4 spurt was highlighted by two 3-pointers by Gibbs after his backhanded missed field goal was hammered home by Rex Pflueger left the game tied at 60-60 with 6:53 left.