For just the third time this season, Carolina went on the road and won, as they escaped Notre Dame with a 63-59 win, to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive. UNC trailed at halftime, 27-19, after shooting 19% in the first half. That 19% shooting half, was the lowest in a half in the history of the program, as this offense continues to be out of sorts. What was even more frustrating, was that Carolina only gave up 3 points in the first six minutes of the game, and still found themselves trailing. The most important part of the game is typically the final four minutes of the first half and the first four minutes of the second half. Well coming out of halftime down 27-19, it was important for Carolina to make some sort of a run, and they did just that, making it a 31-30 deficit, at the first media timeout in the second half. Hubert Davis emphasized a high-low offensive attack between Pete Nance, and Armando Bacot, which Notre Dame had no answer for.
It’s not every game you’re going to win a road game shooting 33% from the field, and only 9% from behind the arc, but at this point in the season, it’s not necessarily about how you win, but just that you win. Four starters scored in double figures, led by Armando Bacot, and Caleb Love, both scoring 16 points apiece. Arguably the biggest reason the Heels won the game was that they dominated the glass, 52-33, as four starters grabbed at least 8 rebounds, and three starters grabbed double-digit rebounds, led by Leaky Black, and Armando Bacot both grabbing 11. UNC grabbed 23 offensive rebounds, and turned them into 23 second-chance points, compared to just 9 for Notre Dame.
Had Carolina lost last that, that would’ve probably been the nail in the coffin for the postseason hopes unless they were to win the ACC Tournament in Greensboro in a couple of weeks. While last night didn’t improve their NCAA Tournament standing, but it keeps them in contention, as long as they win at least one of their remaining Quad 1 contests. Here’s what to takeaway from last night’s win against the Fighting Irish:
Defense: You could argue that last night was the best defensive performance against a Power 5 opponent all season long. Notre Dame shot only 40% from the field and didn’t score until almost six minutes had passed to start the game. Furthermore, UNC limited Notre Dame to 30% shooting from behind the arc (7-23). As bad as Carolina was on offense last night, you have to commend them for staying engaged on the defensive end, which ultimately kept them in the game. They also forced 9 turnovers, which led to 11 points, and UNC needed every one of them.
Shot Selection: The biggest reason why Carolina’s offense was as bad as it was last night, was in large part due to their poor shot selection once again. Caleb Love was the only player to make a perimeter shot last night, as everyone struggled to make shots. Leaky Black, who’s shooting 28% from behind the arc in league play was 0-3. Puff Johnson, also shooting under 30%, was 0-4, and then D’Marco Dunn, who didn’t even register a minute at NC State, was 0-3. At this point in the season, the only players that should be allowed to shoot perimeter shots, are Love, Davis, and Nance, and even those guys are a reach.
Rebounding: This isn’t as dominant a rebounding team in recent memory, but they put on their hard hats last night and completely controlled that area of the game. UNC’s plus-19 rebounding margin, was their second highest of the season, only behind the game against Georgia Tech, where they outrebounded the Yellow Jackets by 21. For most of the game, Carolina’s best offense was grabbing their own misses and scoring off of them, which was a staple under Roy Williams. Defensively, they did an adequate job of limiting Notre Dame to one shot for the majority of the game. Hubert Davis has said all season long, that games need to be “UNC rebounding games”, and that was definitely the case last night.
Points in the Paint: When Carolina committed to playing inside-out, Notre Dame had no answer for it, and Carolina outscored them in the paint, 34-26. Pete Nance’s ability as a passer was on full display, as he totaled 5 assists, most of them feeding Armando Bacot in the post. Hubert has talked a lot about altering some of the things Carolina’s doing, and that needs to start with playing an old-school style of basketball, as they proved tonight, that’s their best offense right now.
Free Throw Shooting: Carolina hasn’t visited the foul line as frequently as of late, but last night that was a key component as to why they won the game. UNC was 15-18 from the foul line, compared to Notre Dame going 6-9.
Up Next: It’s a very important game for the Heels on Saturday night when they host Virginia at 6 PM on ESPN.