NOTRE DAME, Ind. – North Carolina and Duke? ACC bluebloods?
There’s some blue-and-gold blood running through the ACC, too.
Notre Dame defeated North Carolina for the third straight time after winning four of the last five against Duke as the Irish overcame a 15-point first-half deficit to claim a 80-76 victory Saturday night at Purcell Pavilion.
“Our program, when we’ve been under the bright lights and on the big stage, has flat-out delivered,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey.
With ESPN’s College GameDay crew on hand, the Irish (16-7, 7-4) were an awful 9-of-32 from the field (28.1 percent) in the first half, rushing shots and playing into the hands of North Carolina’s long and deep front line.
But in the second half, the offensively-efficient Irish made every possession count as Notre Dame overcame a nine-point halftime deficit to tie the game six times and take a lead with 6:33 remaining that they would not relinquish.
V.J. Beachem, who missed his first seven shots, finished 2-of-10, and was taken out of the game less than two minutes into the second half for his inefficiency, canned a three-pointer to tie the game, converted a three-point play to tie it again, and then nailed the long-range jumper that eventually put the Irish on top for good.
“I had a couple early rim in and out, but the guys just kept telling me to keep firing,” Beachem said. “They found me and I was able to knock down some big ones.
“Maybe my freshman year, I might have lost confidence in my shot. But not now because the guys are always in my ear telling me, ‘Shoot the next one. You’ve got to shoot it no matter what.’”
Demetrius Jackson missed all five of his three-point attempts, but played 40 minutes without a turnover, converted all nine of his free throws and grabbed six rebounds while serving as the offensive maestro down the stretch.
“We were really efficient and mentally tough,” said Jackson, who finished with 19 points. “We did a great job of moving on to the next play.
“To dig in and have the mental toughness that we had, I was really proud of the team.”
Zach Auguste and Bonzie Colson combined for 20 rebounds – 10 on the offensive end – with Colson scoring 19 points and Auguste tossing in 15, including Notre Dame’s first six points of the game.
“We had to make some stops or we were going to lose,” said Auguste, who scored 13 of his 15 points in the first half.
“If we didn’t step up and be aggressive and lock in defensively, they probably would have beaten us by 20.”
Steve Vasturia, who also got off to a slow start, scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half, including Notre Dame’s first three-pointer of the night nearly 26 minutes into the game.
The Irish had their hands full with North Carolina’s front line, featuring Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Justin Jackson. But despite the Tar Heels’ penchant for pounding it in the paint, the Irish were able to hold their own, limiting the trio to 29 points in a combined 81 minutes.
Meeks finished with 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting, but Johnson – a 62.4 percent shooter and North Carolina’s leading scorer – was just 6-of-16 from the field while Jackson missed six of seven shots.
Even more incredible was Notre Dame’s 20 offensive rebounds – five more than North Carolina (19-4, 8-2), which lost for the second time in a row after ripping off 12 straight victories.
“A lot of that is heart and effort,” Brey said. “When you’re playing in front of a great crowd like that, it makes you believe a little more. That was one of the great nights in our building. We just never were tired and we believed because we had the crowd behind us.”
Notre Dame’s 31 free throws (on 38 attempts) were the most by an Irish team in its three years of ACC play. Subtract Auguste’s 5-of-11 from the line – including four misses in the final two minutes – and the Irish were 27-of-28.
Notre Dame turned the basketball over just twice to North Carolina’s 13. That led to an incredible 19-0 scoring advantage off turnovers.
Despite connecting on just 3-of-16 from three-point range, Notre Dame was able to secure the victory, which in previous years wouldn’t have gotten it done against a team of North Carolina’s length.
“We’re driving the ball more,” Brey said. “We’re pounding with Bonzie and Zach at times. I want our shooters to be ready to rise up and take them because we’ve got some shooters that shoot a high percentage. But we’re getting to the foul line. We don’t need to take (three-pointers) as much.”
The Irish looked as if they might succumb to one of the poorest-shooting three-point teams in the country. North Carolina is ranked 331st out of 351 teams in three-point shooting percentage at 30.2 percent.
The Tar Heels proceeded to hit 5-of-8 in the first half, including 4-of-5 by Marcus Paige, who had converted just 16 percent of his three-point attempts in the previous six games. But North Carolina made just 1-of-4 in the second half with Paige missing from long range with 12 seconds remaining and a chance to tie.
Paige led all scorers with 21 points. Johnson paced the Tar Heels on the backboards with 14 caroms to go with 14 points.
Demetrius Jackson’s 19 points gives him 1,006 in his career. He is the 58th player in Irish history to reach the four-digit scoring level.
Notre Dame played without A.J. Burgett, who had started the two previous games, after turning his ankle in practice earlier in the week.
Notre Dame has a quick turnaround with a 9 p.m. game Monday night against Clemson in Greenville, S.C.