Greensboro, NC—When tournament season comes around, the Tar heels seem to play its best brand of basketball.
Wednesday night was no different.
North Carolina used a 37-2 run that lasted over 11 minutes in the second half to beat Notre Dame 101-59 in the second round of the ACC tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex.
The Tar Heels will face No. 3 seed Virginia Tech, who they did not play during the regular season. The Hokies played just four games last month, shutting down basketball activities due to contact tracing. The last game played was on Feb. 27 against Wake Forest.
“With Brooks, we have the best front court in the nation, by far, easily,” said UNC freshman center Walker Kessler. “And without him, we all kind of understood that we’ve got to step up a little bit, like no one person has to do it by themselves.”
Armando Bacot, a 6-foot-10 sophomore scored 20 points and 13 boards. Kessler chipped in 16 points and a career-best 12 rebounds, and Day’Ron Sharpe had 14 points, 10 boards and a career-high six assists. Kessler added eight blocks, the most by a UNC freshman in program history and an ACC tourney single-game record.
North Carolina was well aware of the Irish’s opening round comeback against Wake Forest, in which they closed the game on a 17-2 run. So with Notre Dame hitting 3’s to start the second half, the Heels’ had to kick it up into another gear.
“Obviously, the way they came back Tuesday was kind of scary,” UNC Armando Bacot said. “And not having Garrison (Brooks), we just knew we could not let up on them.”
North Carolina used its size on the blocks every chance it got. Irish guard Dane Goodwin, all 6-foot-6 of him had a huge problem defending the 7-foot-1 Kessler down low.
The Heels finished with 25 offensive boards — one shy of tying its season-high in the loss at Syracuse — and 27 second-chance points.
“I feel like me and Day’Ron (Sharpe) are probably the two best offensive rebounders in the country,” sophomore forward Armando Bacot said. “We beat each other up in practice all the time every day and make it tough on each other. So just going against other bigs, it’s a lot easier just getting to the offensive glass.”
With Garrison Brooks, UNC’s senior forward and leader, out due to injury, UNC leaned on forward Sharpe, who had six points in the opening minutes of the game, and forward Bacot, who added a layup inside. At the first media timeout the Tar Heels held an 11-7 lead.
By the 11:22 mark UNC had snatched up 16 rebounds and 12 of them on the offensive end, on the way to a 19-14 lead. The combination of Bacot, Sharpe and Walker Kessler combined for 11 of those boards to go along with 14 points, pushing the Irish around in the paint.
At the break, North Carolina led the Irish, 50-36, having posted one of its highest-scoring halves of the season on an efficient 48 percent from the floor. Three players — Bacot, Sharpe and guard Caleb Love — had already cracked double digits, while 19 of the Tar Heels’ points had come from second-chance opportunities and 32 of their points had come in the paint.
In the second half, UNC used an 11-0 spurt to stretch the lead to 23 points by the 12:00 mark. The Irish went cold offensively, allowing the Heels to grab full control of the game — at one point going on an 42-4 run — and never looked back.
In UNC’s 66-65 win on Jan. 2 , Notre Dame shot 11-for-30 from downtown. The Tar heels didn’t allow them to open looks they had in Chapel Hill. Forward Nate Laszewski, who had 25 points in the first meeting including seven 3-pointers, was held to 13 points. He missed his only two attempts from behind the arc.
“We couldn’t let Laszewski get going, or (Prentiss) Hubb,” Bacot said. “I thought we went out and competed hard on defense. We got all the right rotations, we did a good job of communicating without our defensive leader Garrison.”
As to Brooks’ availability for the quarterfinal, Williams said he was not sure.
“I’d like to give an update, because that would mean I have one,” Williams said. “We thought he was going to be able to play up until (Wednesday). We didn’t practice him (Tuesday) except the warm up stuff. And I thought he would be able to go but it was still bothering him.”
Prentiss Hubband and Nate Laszewski scored 13 points a piece for No. 11 seed Irish (11-15). North Carolina shot 51% from the field and had its highest-scoring game since the 2018-19 season.
UNC outrebounded Notre Dame 54-31, scored 25 second-chance points off 27 offensive boards, and outscored the Fighting Irish 56-20 on the blocks. North Carolina finished with a season-high 12 blocks.
It was a complete game for Roy Williams’ team. Williams moved into a tie with Bob Knight with his 902nd win.
The Tar Heels face the third-seeded Hokies on Thursday at 9 p.m.