SOUTH BEND – Emerging from the Notre Dame locker room some 45 minutes after the latest big shot of his college career, sophomore Nate Laszewski was greeted with a couple congratulatory claps of hands and hugs from well-wishers.
This one wasn't a non-conference snoozer in November to get it to overtime. This one was bigger. Laszewski delivered. Bigger.
Able to set his feet following a Rex Pflueger offensive rebound in the closing seconds, Laszewski dropped in a wing 3 with 2.4 seconds remaining to help Notre Dame erase what had been a 15-point deficit to North Carolina for a 77-76 victory at Purcell Pavilion.
"Rex got on the glass like he does the whole year, just making those hustle plays," Laszewski said. "I just shot it with confidence. The way I shot it, I thought it was good."
Just as he did back in November against Toledo, but a little different.
“Better,” sophomore guard Prentiss Hubb said. “We won in regulation.”
Won when they really may have had no business winning. Notre Dame trailed by 15 points with eight minutes remaining but kept chipping away. Kept getting some stops. Kept hitting some shots. Kept believing that with all the tough league losses they’ve had to stomach this season, this one would go their way.
“We told each other we had to believe,” Laszewski said.
“We kind of thought that we were more experienced in that aspect,” Hubb said.
Winners of four in a row at home and their two-game league losing streak snapped, the Irish improve to 16-10, 7-8 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Losers of six straight, last-place North Carolina falls to 10-16, 3-12.
Hubb led the Irish with 20 points. John Mooney added his 21st double double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Laszewski had 11 points.
Cole Anthony led the Tar Heels with 23 points.
Notre Dame had the deficit down to two but an Anthony three bumped it to five with 1:39 remaining. T.J. Gibbs brought the Irish within two, 76-74, with a flip shot with 46.6 seconds remaining. An Anthony miss and subsequent Tar Heel turnover gave the Irish the ball back with 18.8 seconds remaining.
“They made plays down the stretch,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said of the Irish. “They were tougher.”
The Tar Heels led by as many as 15 with 8:37 left.
“We needed it bad and we were dead in the water,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “Had ‘em right where we wanted ‘em, right?”
Not quite. But the comeback will do. A Gibbs 3 brought the Irish within nine with just over seven minutes remaining. A Hubb drive made it a 7-0 run and a seven-point game with 6:26 left. Two Hubb free throws made it 66-61 with 6:04 left.
At one point, Notre Dame made seven straight shots to get back into a game many figured was over. Not when Laszewski drained a wing 3 to bring the Irish within three, 73-70, with 3:15 remaining. Notre Dame had a chance at the tie but a Pflueger corner 3 rattled around and out.
Notre Dame led by as many as nine and was up by three at intermission. It felt like it should have been more, but the Irish shot only 40 percent from the field, 25 percent from 3. An Anthony 3 tied it at 38 with 17:40 left. And when Brooks threw up a weird right-handed hook shot that banged off the backboard and dropped, Carolina had a 40-38 lead. Another Brooks hook/flip, part of a 9-0 run, pushed the lead to four.
The mood and the momentum in the building seemed to swing just like that after the Irish went scoreless for more than four minutes.
North Carolina's run topped out at 13-0 before a Dane Goodwin 3 brought the Irish back within five. But a third Brooks hook/flip pushed the Carolina advantage into double digits (52-41) and the Irish were on their, um, heels.
The building Monday felt different. This wasn’t the usual league slog against Georgia Tech or Pittsburgh. North Carolina’s down this year, as down as it’s ever been, but it’s still North Carolina. The Tar Heels looked a whole lot in the first half like the struggling Irish teams we’ve seen for the last two seasons. Missing open shots. Going stretches without points. Having everything be such a struggle.
That allowed the Irish to operate much of the half with a comfortable working lead. All seven Irish who played scored within the first 15 minutes. There was better ball movement, better balance, better confidence for a team that had none of any of it about 52 hours earlier.
“I thought we had a little bit of a hangover for a while,” Brey said of the quick turnaround. “I thought we looked flat-out exhausted.”
Monday capped a run of four league games over nine days for Notre Dame.
“It’s a huge win for us to get out of this stretch 2-2,” Brey said. “We’ll take it.”
Notre Dame’s reward for that survival? Five days away from game action before bouncing back into league play with a Sunday evening home game against Miami (Fla.). Monday’s game included, Notre Dame will play all but one of its remaining league games against teams with current losing conference records.
• NOTRE DAME 77, NORTH CAROLINA 76
At Purcell Pavilion
NORTH CAROLINA (76): Anthony 7-16 6-6 23, Bacot 1-6 0-0 2, Brooks 11-18 0-2 22, Black 2-6 4-4 9, Keeling 3-8 2-2 9, Robinson 4-9 0-0 11, Pierce 0-3 0-0 0, Platek 0-1 0-0 0, Miller 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-67 12-14 76.
NOTRE DAME (77): Durham 3-5 2-5 8, Mooney 6-13 1-2 13, Gibbs 5-11 0-0 14, Hubb 7-17 4-5 20, Pflueger 1-3 0-0 3, Laszewski 3-7 3-5 11, Goodwin 3-7 0-0 8. Totals 28-63 10-17 77.
Halftime_Notre Dame 36-33. 3-Point Goals_North Carolina 8-21 (Robinson 3-7, Anthony 3-8, Black 1-2, Keeling 1-2, Pierce 0-1, Platek 0-1), Notre Dame 11-34 (Gibbs 4-8, Goodwin 2-4, Laszewski 2-6, Hubb 2-9, Pflueger 1-3, Mooney 0-4). Rebounds_North Carolina 42 (Bacot, Black 10), Notre Dame 29 (Mooney 10). Assists_North Carolina 18 (Anthony 6), Notre Dame 15 (Hubb 8). Total Fouls_North Carolina 17, Notre Dame 15.