CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The “road dawgs” have lost their Atlantic Coast Conference bite.
So good away from home the previous three seasons, each of which ended in NCAA tournament trips, Notre Dame has been unable to get it going in the right road direction this season.
That may eventually cost them a tournament trip come March.
Notre Dame lost its fifth-straight ACC road game Monday, 83-66, at No. 14 North Carolina. That dropped the Irish, who need everything to go right – and to keep winning – to keep their NCAA postseason hopes alive to 15-11, 5-8 in the ACC. With five regular-season games remaining, the Irish were dropped into 12th place in the 15-team league.
“I love how we fought,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “But they had about a three-minute stretch where they were unbelievable offensively and we certainly couldn’t absorb that.
“They can put numbers up so easy.”
Notre Dame had won its previous two league games – both at home. The Irish have not won on the road since its first league test on Jan. 6 against Syracuse. Brey’s team had won five, four and seven road games the previous three seasons.
It was loss No. 198 for Brey in his 18 seasons at Notre Dame – the most in program history. He became the winningest coach in school history earlier this season – and has since won only twice.
Sophomore power forward John Mooney scored a career-high 18 points on six 3-pointers.
Notre Dame trailed by 10 with 13:10 remaining. The visitors got as close as one (58-57) with 9:34 remaining following a T.J. Gibbs 3 and had a chance at the lead, but a Matt Farrell floater didn’t fall. Down three, the Irish then had a chance to get it back to one but Austin Torres couldn’t convert at the rim.
Then down four, Mooney was fouled on a 3-point attempt. He missed all three free throws.
“You needed to make those,” Brey said. “We’re battling, man. We’re fighting.”
It was that kind of night – again against the defending national champions. Good, but not just good enough. Again.
Carolina then went back up by double digits and was on cruise control. The Tar Heels led by as many as 17. It was ACC career win No. 200 for North Carolina coach Roy Williams.
Farrell and Gibbs were so good two nights earlier in the win over Florida State. Farrell erupted for a career-high 28 points and Gibbs added 19. But both struggled – and struggled a whole lot – in Monday’s first half.
Playing for the first time in the Smith Center, Farrell missed all nine of his shots from the floor. Gibbs took five and missed five. Somehow, the Irish were down by only four, 38-34, at intermission. That was thanks to a sizzling shooting performance from Mooney. He took five 3-pointers and made five 3-pointers for 15 points in 16 minutes.
Mooney started the second half. Farrell missed his first shot of the second half before getting a runner to finally fall with 18:10 remaining.
The guard trio of Farrell, Gibbs and Rex Pflueger combined for 66 points in Saturday’s win over Florida State. On Monday, the three finished with 22 points on 5-for-34 from the field, 3-for-19 from 3.
Good guards give a team a chance every night, even on the road. When the guards aren’t good, it makes it really tough. It was really tough Monday.
“They really defended our guards well,” Brey said. “That was probably a big difference in the game.”
Mooney and fellow big man Martinas Geben combined for 36 points.
The Irish started the same five for a third-straight game, something that hadn’t happened since late December before they lost leading scorer and rebounder Bonzie Colson to a broken left foot. Colson still is ticketed for a possible return at the end of the month. He’s missed 12 games. Freshman swingman D.J. Harvey (left knee) could be back as the Irish road swing continues at Boston College.
Notre Dame and North Carolina met last month in South Bend, a game the Irish had a chance to win at the buzzer before a Gibbs rebound follow rolled around and fell out at the horn in a one-point loss.
Notre Dame entered its second Saturday-Monday swing having averaged 90 points in its last two games – both needed league wins. The Irish scored 96 in last week’s win over Boston College before getting 84 in Saturday’s win over Florida State.
For the second-straight game, an Irish starter found himself in early foul trouble. Less than five minutes into Saturday’s game, it was Farrell who picked up a pair of personals. On Monday, it was Geben who was sent to the bench with his second foul at 16:51.
Geben sat for the rest of a first half that saw the Irish lead by as many as three points in the first three minutes.
The Irish connected on only two of their first seven shots – from the free throw line. They didn’t shoot it all that well from any distances in the first half, but still were hanging around to the point where they had a chance. If the shots could fall, so might the Tar Heels.
No. 14 NORTH CAROLINA 83, NOTRE DAME 66
At Chapel Hill, N.C.
NOTRE DAME (15-11): Geben 8-9 2-2 18, Torres 1-2 0-2 2, Pflueger 1-7 0-0 3, Gibbs 1-9 7-9 10, Farrell 3-18 2-3 9, Burns 1-2 1-2 3, Mooney 6-8 0-3 18, Gregory 0-2 0-0 0, Djogo 1-1 0-2 3, Nelligan 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-58 12-23 66.
NORTH CAROLINA (20-7): Maye 3-11 2-2 8, Pinson 6-10 4-5 16, Johnson 6-10 0-0 13, Berry 8-15 3-3 21, Williams 5-7 1-4 14, Miller 0-0 0-0 0, Rush 0-1 0-0 0, Rohlman 0-0 0-0 0, Huffman 1-1 1-2 3, Manley 1-1 2-4 4, Brooks 0-0 0-0 0, Ma 0-0 0-0 0, Platek 1-2 0-0 2, Woods 0-0 0-0 0, Robinson 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 32-60 13-20 83.
Halftime--North Carolina 38-34. 3-Point Goals--Notre Dame 10-27 (Mooney 6-6, Djogo 1-1, Gibbs 1-3, Pflueger 1-4, Farrell 1-12, Gregory 0-1), North Carolina 6-16 (Williams 3-5, Berry 2-5, Johnson 1-3, Robinson 0-1, Maye 0-2). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--Notre Dame 25 (Geben 7), North Carolina 38 (Pinson 10). Assists--Notre Dame 17 (Farrell 9), North Carolina 19 (Pinson 5). Total Fouls--Notre Dame 16, North Carolina 15.