Tar Heels boot Notre Dame men's basketball team

TOM NOIE
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND-Keeping a team that prefers to run and play above the rim away from its comfort zone was going to be one of the few ways Notre Dame had any chance Saturday against North Carolina.

When the Tar Heels got going and sent the Irish scrambling, this one got ugly.

North Carolina turned sold-out Purcell Pavilion into its own playground that featured a host of highlight plays from the guys in the powder blue jerseys. There were lobs, layups, run-outs, tip slams and downright dominance. Even Irish fans cheered some of the sequence of plays they seldom see from their guys.

When it ended, and the Tar Heels had won their fifth straight Atlantic Coast Conference game, 73-62, the Irish had lost for the eighth time in the last 10 league games.

Watching everything about this winter continue to slip away, Notre Dame has seen its record (12-12) reach the point in which postseason — anyone know the participation rules for the College Basketball Invitational? — is no given. Showing no signs that the freefall might end, the Irish are 3-8 in the ACC.

“You’re really wondering,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “Searching.”

Notre Dame was demoralized and dominated in nearly every area by a North Carolina team that spent much of the day doing whatever it wanted against little resistance. Run? OK. Dunk? Sure. Rebound? Fine. Throw lobs? Why not?

“They’re lanky and they get out and run and were able to do that today,” said Irish power forward Garrick Sherman. “They played really well.”

What did the Irish do well? Not much. A quick start that produced a nine-point lead eventually fizzled. Once momentum shifted, it stayed with the visitors.

Needing to control the area around the rim as well as it did five nights earlier against the nation’s No. 1 team in Syracuse, Notre Dame allowed North Carolina to shoot 53.6 percent and score 46 points in the second half. The Tar Heels finished with 44 points in the paint. The power-forward combination that was so good in the Carrier Dome — Tom Knight and Sherman — never played a minute together Saturday. The Irish went much of the way with Sherman and Zach Auguste.

“We gave them way too many easy shots, you know?” Sherman said.

Why were the Irish so good around the rim Monday on the road and not Saturday at home?

“I don’t know,” Brey said. “That’s what’s so disappointing.”

The Tar Heels (16-7; 6-4) turned 17 turnovers into 23 points. Controlling the rebounding battle (37-32) saw Carolina secure 15 offensive rebounds that delivered another 14 second-chance points. The Tar Heels had eight fast-break points to zero for the Irish.

The first six-plus minutes of the second half sealed the story of this one.

Picking up where it left off from the first half when it scored the last nine points to flip a five-point deficit to a four-point lead, North Carolina kept its foot firmly on the go-go gas to open the final 20 minutes. The Tar Heels got it started 18 seconds in by turning another Irish turnover into a Leslie McDonald layup.

More turnovers and more easy looks followed as the Irish deficit hit eight, then 10, then 12 and then 14 following a Brice Johnson dunk.

“We really kind of used that momentum that we got at the end of the first half,” said forward James Michael McAdoo, who scored a team-high 18 points. “We just did what we know we’re capable of doing — that’s working together and really just executing the game plan.”

At the 13:30 mark, with the Irish down and all but out, North Carolina had more dunks (four) than Notre Dame had baskets (two).

“It’s embarrassing,” Sherman said of the slams. “They shouldn’t be getting easy buckets like that. It’s tough.”

North Carolina led by as many as 16.

“To see them get such easy layups and dunks really hurts,” said Irish guard Eric Atkins.

Notre Dame twice built nine-point leads in the first half by being patient and (somewhat) good with the ball. But once the game started to turn and the Tar Heels got going, the Irish had no way to keep it all under control, and no way to elevate their athleticism.

Brey again mixed and matched different lineup combinations in hopes that something or someone would click, but nothing ever did. Sherman led the Irish with 17 points while Atkins added 12. Auguste and V.J. Beachem each had 10.

Even Pat Connaughton’s game-high 10 rebounds didn’t sit all that well with Brey.

“I don’t know if he should be our leading rebounder all the time,” he said. “I love that he gets double figure rebounds, but we could use some more out of some of these other guys on the backboard.”

Notre Dame’s four power forwards — Auguste, Knight, Sherman and Austin Burgett, who was back in action for the first time since suffering a rapid heartbeat Jan. 21 — combined for 12 rebounds. None of the four had more than six.

The final 16-plus minutes was little more than a controlled scrimmage with both teams going up and down the floor, some stops here or there, but little drama.

Eight unanswered points from the Irish, including five from Beachem, sliced the deficit from 16 to eight with 4:26 remaining. Even the juice it pumped into a slumbering building was short-lived. Less than three minutes later, the Tar Heels were up by 14 and rolling.

“Basketball’s a game of runs,” McAdoo said. “We expected them the last six minutes to come out and make a run and they did that.”

When that run was over, the Irish were left with little to feel good about and embrace as they move forward.

Again.

NORTH CAROLINA (16-7): Kennedy Meeks 1-6 1-2 3, J.P. Tokoto 6-13 1-5 13, James Michael McAdoo 6-13 6-6 18, McDonald 3-8 2-2 9, Marcus Paige 6-13 2-2 16, Nate Britt 1-1 2-2 4, Brice Johnson 4-7 2-2 10, Desmond Hubert 0-0 0-0 0, Jackson Simmons 0-0 0-0 0, Isaiah Hicks 0-0 0-0 0, Joel James 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-61 16-21 73.

NOTRE DAME (12-12): Zach Auguste 5-7 0-0 10, Garrick Sherman 7-11 3-5 17, Eric Atkins 5-15 0-0 12, Pat Connaughton 2-8 1-2 7, Steve Vasturia 1-3 1-2 4, V.J. Beachem 4-7 1-1 10, Austin Burgett 0-1 0-0 0, Demetrius Jackson 1-3 0-0 2, Tom Knight 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-55 6-10 62.

Halftime — North Carolina 27-23. 3-Point Goals — North Carolina 3-11 (Paige 2-4, McDonald 1-5, Tokoto 0-2), Notre Dame 6-21 (Atkins 2-7, Connaughton 2-8, Beachem 1-3, Vasturia 1-3). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — North Carolina 37 (McAdoo 8), Notre Dame 32 (Connaughton 10). Assists — North Carolina 12 (Paige 6), Notre Dame 14 (Atkins 5). Total Fouls — North Carolina 12, Notre Dame 17. A — 9,149.

TNoie@SBTinfo.com

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Twitter: TNoie@NDInsider

North Carolina forward J.P. Tokoto, left, drives the lane as Notre Dame guard Pat Connaughton defends during the first half of Saturday's game in South Bend. (AP Photo/JOE RAYMOND)