CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — On a night when two of Notre Dame's guards were really good, one of North Carolina's was better.
Way better. Difference-making better. Take the game over and win it basically by himself in the second half better.
Offsetting big efforts from Irish senior T.J. Gibbs and sophomore Prentiss Hubb, North Carolina freshman Cole Anthony showed why he was one of the most coveted recruits in the country last spring. A recruit that considered signing with Notre Dame, if only for a minute.
Anthony instead signed with North Carolina, where he kick-started what likely will be his only season in college with a monster debut of 34 points and 11 rebounds to lead No. 9 North Carolina to a 76-65 victory over Notre Dame at the Dean Smith Center.
Gibbs, looking more like the Gibbs of old and not of last season, had 19 points and four assists. Hubb, looking even better than last sason's rookie version, added a career-high 22 points. The two also helped keep the Irish to only six turnovers.
That was the good. The bad? Notre Dame was outrebounded 51-31 and allowed 14 offensive rebounds leading to 17 second-chance points. The Irish knew the Tar Heels' M.O. — pound the glass — and couldn't stop it.
Down by as many as nine early, Notre Dame led by as many as five before tumbling back into a big hole (16 points) in the second half, one that belonged beginning, middle and end to Anthony, who scored 23 points in 20 minutes.
"Not a lot to talk about," deadpannned Tar Heels coach Roy Williams. "Basically, guys, the second half, it was Cole Anthony. That was pretty impressive."
A whole lot impressive. Didn't matter who was guarding Anthony. Rex Pflueger started on him. Gibbs had a turn. So did Hubb, who insisted two days earlier that he wouldn't turn Wednesday into a one-on-one matchup. Regardless, it became one.
Anthony did a little of everything; Hubb couldn't do enough.
"If I've got an open look, can't shy away from it," Hubb said. "I'm going to always be confident in my shooting if I'm making or missing."
Hubb didn't get much help outside of Gibbs on the perimeter. Subtract his 3-point shooting (5-for-9) and that of Gibbs (4-of-6) and the rest of the Irish went a combined 0-for-16.
"For us to beat these level of teams, we had some great looks and we gotta make more of them," said Irish coach Mike Brey. "We moved it (16 assists) but we're going to have to make more from out there. You've got to score more."
A John Mooney lay-in brought the Irish (0-1) within two, 52-50, as Brey jumped up and down and hollered for his guys to go zone. Anthony then drained a late-clock 3 to push the Heels up five. Andrew Platek followed next time down with a 3 of his own and just like that, Carolina was up eight with 9:25 left. By the time the under-eight minute timeout arrived, the Heels had gone on a 13-2 run.
"His dagger 3s were a big part of it," Brey said. "He just got one of those rolls that we've all seen on the AAU circuit. That was really the difference for us."
Hubb got rolling late with 11 points the final five-plus minutes, including three 3s. His third allowed the Irish to carry a lead (31-30) back to the locker room at intermission. Gibbs added 11 as the Irish backcourt outscored the Heels’ guards 23-14 in the first half.
A late run allowed Notre Dame to take a one-point lead (31-30) at intermission.
"We were just playing," Hubb said. "We weren't really worried about their lead. It's a game of runs. We just had to take their punch and retaliate."
Gibbs returned with a 3 to open the second half and push the Irish up four. And when Hubb delivered on a drive, he had a career high 19 points. More importantly, the Irish had a three-point lead. Anthony then went to work and that was gone by the under-12 timeout, where the Irish trailed by two.
Down by nine early in the first half, Notre Dame kept plugging and defending and trying to make shots. Hubb peeled off eight straight, including a pair of 3s, to push the Irish ahead 28-23 late in the first half. After struggling early, the Irish had found their flow.
The Irish missed their first five shots before Mooney finally got something to fall with 16:22 remaining. Sophomore Nate Laszewski, the first Irish sub in less than three minutes in, played without the protective mask he’d worn for the last three weeks after suffering a broken nose early in preseason camp.
Laszewski checked in for Juwan Durham before the first media timeout. The Tar Heels had as many baskets as turnovers (three) the first four-plus minutes. Durham picked up two fouls in the first 6:15.
Notre Dame carried confidence into the Smith Center, and likely was buoyed by what happened on college basketball’s unofficial opening night. Of the three ACC league games played Tuesday, the visiting teams — Georgia Tech, Louisville and Virginia Tech — won all three.
Afterward, the Irish were down. Dejected. Disappointed. They truly believed they could get this one. Too few made shots made that impossible.
"Our confidence level is a little higher this year," Hubb said. "We're more mature. We feel as though we can hang with all these top-ranked teams."
Notre Dame is coming off a season in which it won only once on the road — against Boston College and beat only two league teams (Boston College, Georgia Tech). The Irish thought they had a real chance in this one, especially after all three road teams won ACC games a night earlier. There was a chance not many in Carolina Blue would see the Irish coming.
Anthony did, and he was ready. Really ready.
Wednesday marked the first and likely last time ACC teams opened the season with conference games. It’s not scheduled to be that way when 2020-21 rolls around. Notre Dame will play one more league game before New Year’s — next month at home against Boston College — before the rest of the 20-game league schedule starts.
• NORTH CAROLINA 76, NOTRE DAME 65
At Chapel Hill, N.C.
NOTRE DAME (0-1): Durham 1-4 0-0 2, Mooney 5-13 0-2 10, Pflueger 0-3 1-2 1, Hubb 8-17 1-2 22, Gibbs 6-12 3-4 19, Laszewski 1-7 1-2 3, Doherty 0-0 0-0 0, Carmody 3-9 0-0 6, Goodwin 0-3 2-2 2. Totals 24-68 8-14 65.<
NORTH CAROLINA (1-0): Anthony 12-24 4-5 34, Bacot 3-7 1-6 7, Brooks 4-7 2-3 10, Keeling 2-4 0-0 5, Black 2-7 1-1 5, Miller 0-0 0-0 0, Huffman 0-0 0-0 0, Platek 3-4 0-0 8, Pierce 1-6 2-2 5. Totals 27-59 10-17 76.<
Halftime—Notre Dame 31-30. 3-Point Goals—Notre Dame 9-31 (Hubb 5-9, Gibbs 4-6, Mooney 0-2, Carmody 0-3, Pflueger 0-3, Goodwin 0-3, Laszewski 0-5), North Carolina 10-20 (Anthony 6-11, Platek 2-2, Keeling 1-3, Pierce 1-4). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Notre Dame 26 (Mooney 8), North Carolina 47 (Anthony 11). Assists—Notre Dame 16 (Hubb 6), North Carolina 15 (Anthony, Black 5). Total Fouls—Notre Dame 13, North Carolina 15. A—21,750 (21,750).