Notre Dame’s first trip to Greensboro since winning the 2015 ACC tournament with a dramatic come-from-behind victory over North Carolina fell a few possessions short Saturday afternoon as the No. 12 team in the country held off the hard-charging No. 22 Irish, 83-76.
The game was delayed from Saturday to Sunday and moved from the Dean Smith Center to the Greensboro Coliseum after a Friday water-main break in Chapel Hill forced the postponement and change of venue.
Trailing by 15 points with 12 minutes remaining, Notre Dame (17-7, 6-5) cut the deficit to two points with less than four minutes left. But over the final 3:46, the Irish managed just three points, which came on a long-range shot by Bonzie Colson with 17 seconds on the clock after the Tar Heels had upped their advantage to double digits once again.
“We hung in there and gave ourselves a chance,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey, whose squad lost its fourth straight and fifth in six games while the Tar Heels (21-5, 9-2) won for the ninth time in 10 games.
North Carolina out-scored Notre Dame in the paint, 40-18, and won the battle of the backboards decisively, 44-25, including a commanding 17-7 tilt on the offensive glass.
“We knew we were going to have absorb pounding in the paint because we played small,” Brey said. “It helped us get back in the thing. But we just could get over the hump. Some of their stuff in the paint down the stretch finally broke our spirit.”
Notre Dame fell to 1-6 on the season versus top 25-ranked opponents with its only victory coming on Jan. 5 over No. 9 Louisville in Purcell Pavilion.
A 13-5 Irish run made it a 70-66 deficit with 6:11 remaining. It was a 75-73 game after a three-pointer by V.J. Beachem.
But Notre Dame came up empty on five straight possessions – a Steve Vasturia travel, a driving miss by Vasturia, a stumbling Matt Farrell turnover, a missed three-pointer by Colson, and a missed three-pointer by Farrell.
Notre Dame out-scored North Carolina in the second half, 42-41.
“We scored it,” said Brey of Notre Dame’s second-half surge. “We opened the floor up. Playing small was the only way we were going to have a chance. V.J. got going and we rode it as long as we could.
“We got it to two, but eventually their size playing against a smaller lineup got us.”
Beachem made just 2-of-7 from three-point range, but was 4-of-5 on two-pointers and 6-of-6 from the free-throw line. He scored 18 of his game-high 20 points in the second half.
Farrell paced the Irish with 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the field, including 4-of-8 from beyond the arc.
The Irish remained within striking distance throughout most of the game, due largely to a 17-of-20 effort from the charity stripe.
Colson scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for his 14th double-double of the season, including his eighth in 11 ACC games.
The Irish had no answers for the Tar Heels up front. North Carolina big men Kennedy Meeks, Elijah Hicks and Tony Bradley combined for 37 points on 16-of-23 shooting from the field. They also had a collective 20 rebounds, eight on the offensive glass.
Justin Jackson tossed in 16 points for North Carolina while Joel Berry II added another 12 – all in the second half -- with seven assists. Berry’s two-point jumper with 3:33 left stemmed Notre Dame’s tide, and the deficit eventually slipped back up to 10.
“Berry’s 15-footer was the shot of a big-time, veteran guard who’s had a great year,” Brey said. “That stopped any belief for us.”
The Tar Heels held off Notre Dame despite converting 6-of-17 from three-point range and 17-of-28 (60.7 percent) from the free-throw line.
Brey decided on Austin Torres in the starting lineup in place of Martin Geben, the first time this season he has altered his starting five.
After missing five of its first six shots, and eight of its first 12, Notre Dame played North Carolina even through the middle portion of the first half to pull within one.
But it was too much Carolina on the boards as the Tar Heels took a 42-34 halftime lead. Meeks, Hicks and Bradley sliced through Notre Dame’s interior defense, scoring 25 points and grabbing 14 rebounds in the first half alone.
North Carolina held a 24-12 rebounding edge at halftime, including 8-2 on the offensive boards. The Tar Heels built an eight-point lead by the break despite shooting 3-of-12 from three and 5-of-11 from the free-throw line.
Notre Dame made it predominately a two-possession game in the first half on the basis of 8-of-10 shooting from the free-throw line and a pair of three-pointers each by Farrell and Rex Pflueger.
Brey’s request to push the Wake Forest game back a day to Wednesday after the Notre Dame-North Carolina game was postponed from Saturday to Sunday was denied.
“Quite frankly I’m disappointed that the game Tuesday wasn’t moved to Wednesday,” Brey said. “But I signed up for the ACC, so I’m a good soldier.”