No. 14 North Carolina (23-7, 13-4 ACC) got its 12th straight ACC win -- its longest in-conference streak since 1986-87 -- but boy, did the Tar Heels make it interesting, edging Notre Dame (15-16, 6-12 ACC) 63-61.


1. Twelve in a row, but ...

Notre Dame having the ball with 6.6 seconds left with a chance to tie or win the game was certainly not what the Tar Heels -- or anyone in attendance -- expected.

The Tar Heels cruised to a 41-27 halftime lead and led by as many as 15 in the first half, shooting 50 percent from the floor and holding Notre Dame to 42.3 percent (plus eight turnovers). It looked like a repeat of the Tar Heels' recent home blowout win over Wake Forest.

But ... it wasn't.

One way you give away a first-half lead is by making just 2-of-12 shots and turning it over more times in the first eight minutes of the second half (four) than in the entire first half (three). Or in Notre Dame's case, the way you claw back into a game is hitting 9-of-12 shots and scoring 22 points in the first 6:48 of the second half.

And that's how a 41-26 UNC lead evaporated and poof, turned into a 49-46 deficit with 11:42 to go. The numbers in the second half weren't pretty from the foul line for either team (4-of-13 for North Carolina and 3-of-7 for Notre Dame), and the game itself didn't have a very pretty flow to it.

Neither, though, did UNC's win at Virginia Tech on Saturday. That's two ugly wins in a row for UNC and while head coach Roy Williams will take it, he certainly wouldn't mind things to be a bit more aesthetically pleasing.

"To have a really good year, you have to win some games ugly," Williams said. "I'm tired of winning games ugly."

And obviously if the Tar Heels don't find a way to beautify their game between now and Saturday, they could be in big trouble as Duke looks for revenge in the rivalry rematch.
2. North Carolina can officially survive a bad game from Marcus Paige. Barely.

Paige, an ACC Player of the Year candidate, scored more points in the final 1:39 of regulation and overtime combined in North Carolina's win at NC State (17) than he has in the last two games put together (14).

Not coincidentally, North Carolina won those two games against middling-to-bad ACC teams by a combined six points.

Paige's five points against Notre Dame's defense -- a box-and-one at times, a zone at others -- on 2-of-8 shooting (1-of-5 from three) was a season-low.

It's now two straight games in single digits for Paige, and the last time that happened was during two of UNC's first three ACC games (all of which were losses). Paige had single digits in three of UNC's four ACC losses this year.

But what was more jarring was that Paige, who has become clutch, couldn't execute late.

He not only missed a runner with 23 seconds left that would have given UNC a four-point lead, but he also made just 2-of-4 free throws in the final 16 seconds, effectively keeping Notre Dame in it.

Paige came into the game shooting 89.1 percent from the line and has been as reliable a free-throw shooter as the Tar Heels have, which has been necessary on a team with bad free-throw shooters.

But he didn't seem to mind. After Brice Johnson tipped out an offensive rebound to him with a little under 20 seconds to go on a Paige missed floater, Paige found his teammate immediately after Notre Dame fouled him and hit him on the chest, screaming at him in celebration.

Other players stepped up: James Michael McAdoo had 14 points, including key buckets late. Johnson had nine points. J.P. Tokoto had 11 points and didn't miss a shot. Even freshman point guard Nate Britt stepped up and hit clutch jumpers late when Paige's weren't falling.


That, ultimately, is the difference between this North Carolina team now and the one from a few months ago.