This one got away from Notre Dame early.
And then it really got away from the Irish, who basically mailed in their competitive spirit in the second half, their final half of competitive basketball for the next seven and a half months. It wasn't about rebounding or boxing out or defending. Or even competing. It became a whole lot about want-to and program pride.
Notre Dame showed none of it in a second-round Atlantic Coast Conference tournament game against North Carolina. No fight. No compete. No chance as its season staggered to a close with a 101-59 loss.
It was the most lopsided loss in the 21-year tenure of Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, who talked a whole lot afterward about what Year 22 might look like. It was the most lopsided loss for the Irish in ACC tournament play. Or any conference tournament.
This one was the sixth most lopsided loss in the 100-plus year history of the program.
Notre Dame hasn't lost a game as badly as it did Wednesday since being beaten by UCLA by 58 points on Dec. 22, 1971. That's before all those wins against No. 1 teams. That's before Dwight Clay. That's before league play and the 3-point line. That was seven games into the Digger Phelps coaching era. That was 50 years ago. Wednesday's second half felt like it took 50 years.
If this were a heavyweight fight, it would've been called barely halfway through the second half. Stopped out of pure pity for the guy getting his melon mashed. But North Carolina showed little mercy. The Tar Heels just kept shooting and rebounding and shooting and rebounding and rebounding and scoring.
A night after leading for all of 1:26 in a comeback win over second-to-last place Wake Forest, Notre Dame led Wednesday for 23 seconds. It trailed by as many as 50 points. Fifty. Six years after winning the ACC tournament championship on that same floor, Notre Dame was down by a half a hundred to a conference colleague.
You'd think the Irish were playing LeBron and AD and the Lakers or KD and the Beard and the Nets. Nope. NBA all-stars? Wrong again. A host of future lottery picks? Stop. This was college kids against college kids. Really good college kids against really average college kids.
A few future pros against a bunch of future businessmen.
First time these teams played in January, North Carolina won by one point. One. Notre Dame needed to close on a 41-0 run to get back to that point differential. Leave them alone with nobody on defense and they might still be scrambling to score.
So how does one ACC team trail another ACC team by 50? How does this one get so one-sided so quickly, so thoroughly? So embarrassingly?
"I don't know," Brey said. "That's a great question. It's, uh, we just kind of got overwhelmed. I don't know if we had much left after last night. We kind of pulled that one out of our backside just to stay alive."
Was this rock bottom? What if it was? But what if it wasn't? What now? What next?
Brey's postgame presser Wednesday begged for a follow-up question or two or three. But each of the four writers who bothered to jump on the post-game Zoom got one question each. And that was that. Brey answered the queries with an eye toward next season and getting back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2017. But there will be plenty of time for that stuff down the road.
Way down the road.
Down by 18 points at the 12-minute mark of the second half, a scan of the Notre Dame sideline said it all. There Brey sat with his three assistants — Rod Balanis and Ryan Humphrey and Scott Martin side by side by side by side (socially distanced, of course) like statues. Nobody stood up. Nobody spoke up. Nobody so much as moved as they watched the Irish turn it over and the Tar Heels push the deficit up over 20.
There was nothing to do when it went to 30. There was nothing to say when it went to 40. This game, this season, couldn’t end soon enough. The coaches looked like it. The Irish played like it. Allowing a 39-2 run, including 24 unanswered, in that avalanche of a second half was all the evidence anyone needed.
The Irish were ready for all this to end.
"My worst fears came true," Brey said. "They overwhelmed us. The roof fell in."
The roof and the walls and then the floors and really the whole foundation. This is a proud Notre Dame program, too proud to have what happened Wednesday happen. Ever. Don't talk about tired legs or average talent. Notre Dame shouldn't trail anyone by 50. Ever.
Somebody tweeted that the North Carolina run topped out at 42-4. Watching it, you lost track of all the baskets on one end, all the misses on the other, just the absolutely silliness of it all. It was hard to watch. Lose, but at least lose with some shred of dignity. Some ounce of care. Some sign of fight.
Seeing the scoreboard read 101-51, underscored the lack of anything from Notre Dame. The lack of everything.
"They just kind of got hot; they were pounding us on the boards," said Irish junior guard Prentiss Hubb. "They played really well. It kind of shocked us a little bit. So...."
Notre Dame looked overmatched and overwhelmed and it was from the start. On the backboard. On the offensive end. In every area. It was going to be difficult for Notre Dame to extend its season if North Carolina brought it’s "A" game.
This may not have been the Tar Heels’ best, but pretty good, even average good, was good enough against this Irish outfit. This one was basically over by the 11:22 mark of the first half. Time for the Tar Heels to start thinking about a quarterfinals contest against No. 3 seed Virginia Tech. Time for the television crew to fill some serious air time. Time for Brey to start thinking what this program needs (a lot) to climb back into the top half of this conference.
Oh, and how to get back to the NCAA tournament. Right now, that goal looks a long way away. Maybe two years. Maybe.
"You gotta go back," Brey said. "You have to. You absolutely have to. That's the crossroads we're at."
Notre Dame closes this season at 11-15. There will be no postseason for a fourth straight spring. No trip to the NCAA tournament. No National Invitation Tournament option. A season like no other crash-landed/ended.
Never was the program shut down for coronavirus issues of its own doing over the last five months, but the whole season was one of uncertainty. It led to a few ups and way too many downs. Like Wednesday. Like the last few weeks.
At least it's over. It ended quickly and quietly and, sadly, predictably.
• NORTH CAROLINA 101, NOTRE DAME 59
At Greensboro, N.C.
NOTRE DAME (59): Durham 4-9 2-2 10, Laszewski 4-7 5-8 13, Djogo 0-1 1-2 1, Hubb 3-8 4-4 13, Wertz 1-9 0-0 3, Goodwin 2-8 0-0 5, Ryan 2-9 2-2 6, Sanders 2-4 0-0 6, Zona 0-4 0-0 0, Morgan 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 19-61 14-18 59.
NORTH CAROLINA (101): Bacot 7-10 6-7 20, Sharpe 7-10 0-3 14, Love 6-14 0-0 15, Walton 1-5 0-0 3, Black 2-7 0-0 4, Kessler 7-11 2-2 16, Davis 5-9 2-2 14, Harris 3-4 0-0 8, Platek 1-4 4-4 7, McAdoo 0-2 0-0 0, Miller 0-0 0-0 0, Smith 0-1 0-0 0, Lebo 0-0 0-0 0, Manley 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 39-77 14-18 101.
Halftime_North Carolina 50-36. 3-Point Goals_Notre Dame 7-26 (Hubb 3-7, Sanders 2-3, Wertz 1-4, Goodwin 1-5, Zona 0-1, Laszewski 0-2, Ryan 0-4), North Carolina 9-24 (Love 3-6, Harris 2-2, Davis 2-5, Platek 1-3, Walton 1-5, Black 0-1, McAdoo 0-1, Smith 0-1). Rebounds_Notre Dame 29 (Durham 6), North Carolina 52 (Bacot 13). Assists_Notre Dame 8 (Hubb 3), North Carolina 19 (Sharpe, Love 6). Total Fouls_Notre Dame 16, North Carolina 15.