GREENSBORO, N.C. – Notre Dame overcame a nine-point deficit with a 13-1 run in 2:05 – just when it appeared that North Carolina was on the verge of blowing them out – and the Irish turned an improbable scenario into an even more improbable 90-82 victory to claim its first conference championship in 20 tries.
A driving basket by Jerian Grant, a three-pointer by Demetrius Jackson, a steal/score by Steve Vasturia, two more three-pointers by Vasturia and Pat Connaughton, and a scoop-and-score by Zach Auguste sparked an incomparable 17-1 run, which eventually expanded to a 24-3 run and a 12-point lead.
It was Notre Dame’s second victory over the Tar Heels this year. The Irish defeated North Carolina in Chapel Hill in January, 71-70. It was North Carolina’s 33rd conference championship game and 16th loss.
All five Irish starters finished in double figures. Grant finished with 24 and Connaughton scored 20. Auguste finished with 16, Vasturia scored 14 and Jackson added 11.
Notre Dame defeated sixth-seeded Miami and second-seeded Duke to reach the ACC tournament championship game.
A 9-0 run to start the second half erased a 39-34 halftime deficit to propel North Carolina to its first lead in 13:22. Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson took over for the Tar Heels. A pair of Paige three-pointers early in the second half and Johnson’s 10-of-12 shooting from the field led to a 58-49 lead with 11:36 remaining.
But Notre Dame dominated from there, moving to 29-5 heading into the NCAA tournament.
After making just 1-of-8 three-pointers in the first half, the Tar Heels came out smoking, connecting on three of their first six attempts en route to a 56-48 lead with less than 12 minutes remaining.
The lead expanded to nine as North Carolina scored on 12 straight possessions, but the Irish hung in there with their own offensive efficiency before the explosion buried the Tar Heels.
North Carolina (24-11) defeated 12th-seeded Boston College, fourth-seeded Louisville and top-seed Virginia to advance to the championship game against third-seed Notre Dame.
Paige finished with 24 points on 5-of-11 shooting from three-point range while Johnson scored 20.
A 7-0 run as part of a 15-2 run first erased a six-point deficit and then gave the Irish a 28-21 lead. Notre Dame maintained the lead over the final 11:01 of the first half.
After connecting on just 2-of-8 three-pointers Friday night against Duke, the Irish hit 5-of-11 in the first half against the Tar Heels, who were just 1-of-8 from distance during the first 20 minutes.
Notre Dame allowed seven offensive rebounds in the first half as Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks, Justin Jackson and Isaiah Hicks off the bench controlled the paint for the Tar Heels, and yet the Irish managed a 39-34 halftime lead with Vasturia nailing a three-pointer with 2.6 seconds remaining.