CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Earlier in what became a long week, Notre Dame just hadn’t done enough to put itself in position to win a close Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball contest.
One day, coach Mike Brey said, his guys would get there. They got there Saturday at North Carolina, but still came up short in a 66-65 loss in the Smith Center.
Nate Laszewski scored a team-high 25 points, but it was too much of the Tar Heels on the backboard, around the rim and making shots when it counted. Notre Dame fell to 3-6 overall, 0-3 in the ACC for the first time in school history.
It’s the first time the Irish have been 0-3 in league play since 2005-06 when they were in the Big East. The three losses are by a combined 20 points.
“That’s a painful one,” Brey said. “We made fearless plays and kept trying and kept digging in and I love how we battled. We kind of deserved this one. We did enough to get this one.”
Note Dame has lost two straight and four of its last five.
“We have another opportunity on Wednesday,” Laszewski said. “This early in the season, we have a lot of opportunities. We can’t hang our heads. There’s always another chance.”
Down by one with 9.1 seconds following a Leaky Black runner and bank shot, Notre Dame had a chance at the win on the final possession. North Carolina doubled point guard Prentiss Hubb off a Dane Goodwin inbound pass under the Carolina basket.
That funneled the ball to Cormac Ryan, who rushed it up the far sideline. Ryan bypassed a possible mid-range jumper for power forward Juwan Durham. His baseline look, somewhat contested but pretty clean, didn’t drop just before the horn sounded.
“I think as (Ryan) gets to be more of a veteran, he takes that shot,” Brey said. “He was too unselfish there. Having said that, Juwan Durham, a wide-open 12-footer on the baseline for a guy who has a pretty good stroke. Yeah, you gotta take that.
“If Cormac had to do it all over again, maybe he takes that one.”
Saturday’s loss, like the one to Virginia, wasted another big night from Laszewski, who finished 9-of-14 from the field, 7-for-11 from 3. In his last two games, Laszewski has scored 53 points on 17-of-25 (68 percent) from the field, 11-18 (61 percent) from 3.
Notre Dame knew it was going to be a chore to keep North Carolina off the backboard, and it was. The Tar Heels corralled a crushing 21 offensive rebounds, which they turned into 18 points. As is often the case against North Carolina, a missed shot was its best shot. The Tar Heels would get one and two and sometimes three offensive rebounds on one possession.
Most of those ended in baskets from freshman power forward Day’Ron Sharpe, who scored a team-high 25. He enjoyed two stretches over the final 12:16 where he scored eight and six straight points.
North Carolina finished with a (+18) rebounding advantage. Laszewski led the Irish with nine.
“You just gotta stay engaged every possession,” Laszewski said. “You can’t take one off when they send five guys to the glass all the time.”
Notre Dame was looking for its second-ever win at the Smith Center. Saturday’s game was a hastily-arranged contest for both teams. The original ACC schedule had North Carolina hosting Syracuse and Notre Dame opening its league road schedule against Pittsburgh. But when coronavirus issues closed down Pittsburgh and Syracuse, the league threw together the matchup in about 30 minutes on Thursday afternoon.
The original league schedule called for seven games to be played Saturday. Only three went off without a virus hitch.
“I’m glad we were able to play a game today,” Brey said. “I hope we get to play Wednesday, ‘cause we’re living day to day in this cancelation/reschedule stuff.”
College coaches also are going casual on the sideline this season, something Brey took to another level Saturday. He worked the game while wearing gray shorts, a first for an Irish game on the mainland. Stepping out of the team hotel in the Triangle on Saturday afternoon, Brey was greeted by 68 degree temperatures and figured, why not go with the shorts?
Last time he coached in shorts was the last time the Irish beat a ranked team — in Maui in 2017.
“I’ll try anything to change the karma,” Brey said.
NOTRE DAME (65): Durham 4-6 0-3 8, Laszewski 9-14 0-1 25, Goodwin 2-9 0-0 6, Hubb 7-12 0-0 14, Ryan 2-8 0-0 5, Djogo 2-4 0-0 5, Zona 0-1 0-0 0, Morgan 0-1 2-2 2, Sanders 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-55 2-6 65.
NORTH CAROLINA (66): Bacot 1-7 2-4 4, Sharpe 9-19 7-9 25, Love 2-7 0-0 5, Walton 4-8 0-0 12, Black 3-7 1-1 8, Brooks 2-7 0-0 5, Davis 1-6 0-0 3, Platek 0-2 0-0 0, Johnson 1-2 0-0 2, Kessler 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 24-69 10-14 66.
Halftime_Notre Dame 30-29. 3-Point Goals_Notre Dame 11-30 (Laszewski 7-11, Goodwin 2-5, Djogo 1-1, Ryan 1-6, Morgan 0-1, Zona 0-1, Hubb 0-5), North Carolina 8-23 (Walton 4-8, Brooks 1-1, Black 1-2, Love 1-3, Davis 1-6, Johnson 0-1, Platek 0-2). Rebounds_Notre Dame 25 (Laszewski 9), North Carolina 44 (Bacot 10). Assists_Notre Dame 17 (Hubb, Ryan 5), North Carolina 15 (Brooks 4). Total Fouls_Notre Dame 11, North Carolina 10.