Perceptions remain perceptions until proven otherwise.
Consider the notion that North Carolina is a better basketball team than Notre Dame no longer accurate, at least not on Jan. 5, 2015.
No. 13 Notre Dame shot to an early 10-point lead, hung on for dear life against No. 18 North Carolina as the Tar Heels took a brief one-point lead with 2:07 remaining, and then made the plays on the offensive and defensive ends to claim a 71-70 victory Monday night at the Smith Center.
The victory is Notre Dame’s first in four tries in Chapel Hill, keeping the Irish solidly atop of the ACC.
“I loved our poise,” said Brey, whose Irish move to 15-1 overall and 3-0 in the ACC.
Zach Auguste scored a game-high 18 points, including what proved to be the game-winning bucket off an offensive rebound with 1:07 remaining, which snapped Notre Dame’s 9:05 field-goal drought.
Demetrius Jackson’s three-pointer with 10:12 remaining gave Notre Dame a 63-54 lead. But sparked by freshman Theo Pinson off the bench and a revived Kennedy Meeks, who was saddled with foul trouble in the second half, the Tar Heels went on a 17-6 run to take its first lead since a 4-2 edge at the start of the game.
Notre Dame played the last 2:07 without leading scorer Jerian Grant, who had just eight points on 1-of-8 shooting from the field. The Irish also survived a pair of missed free throws by Pat Connaughton and Steve Vasturia after Notre Dame made its first 15 of the game.
The officials gave North Carolina the benefit of the doubt on a timeout after Vasturia’s second miss, despite the fact the Tar Heels didn’t have full possession of the basketball.
The Tar Heels advanced it from the backcourt to the frontcourt from 3.7 to 1.4 seconds. After the timeout, North Carolina got the basketball into the hands of Marcus Paige, who was swarmed by Vasturia and Auguste, making Paige’s corner shot very difficult. The shot clanged off the rim and was tipped in after the buzzer.
Notre Dame made 10-of-23 three-pointers while the Tar Heels managed just 4-of-16. North Carolina compensated by holding a 43-to-26 rebounding advantage, including a 21-to-6 chasm on the offensive end.
Notre Dame has now won 11 games in a row. North Carolina’s winning streak ended at five.
Connaughton scored 16 points on 4-of-7 shooting from three-point range. Jackson scored 12 of his 15 points in the first half. V.J. Beachem came off the bench to score nine points on a pair of three-pointers in the first half and another in the second.
Paige finished with 15 points while Meeks and J.P. Tokoto each had 12. Tokoto had five offensive rebounds and Meeks had four. Freshman Theo Pinson came off the bench to score seven points and grab five rebounds in his first five minutes.
Notre Dame came out smoking, making five of its first six shots and shooting to a 10-point lead with a 9-0 run midway through the first half. But the Tar Heels responded with a pair of 6-0 runs to whittle it down to a one-point Irish advantage before a driving basket by Vasturia and a three-pointer by Jackson – giving him 12 points in the first half – gave Notre Dame a 38-34 lead at the break.
The Irish shot 63 percent from the field in the first half until an 0-of-7 dry spell cut the lead from 10 to one. Notre Dame scored five of the last seven to take a four-point halftime lead.
Jackson (12 points, 5-of-7 shooting) and Connaughton (10) scored 22 of Notre Dame’s 38 first-half points. Grant missed all six of his shots in the first half.