Most players and coaches say they don’t look ahead on the schedule. North Carolina sophomore point guard Marcus Paige isn’t one of them. Speaking in the locker room at Virginia just after a loss that dropped the Tar Heels to 1-4 in the ACC, Paige said that UNC had some winnable games coming up and needed to take advantage of the next few weeks in order to turn around its season. Sure enough, UNC has now won five straight games by double digits after Saturday’s 73-62 win over Notre Dame at Purcell Pavilion, giving the Tar Heels plenty of momentum heading into Wednesday’s home showdown with Duke (9 p.m., ESPN/WRAL). “I feel so smart for saying that and having us win all those games,” Paige said. “But it really was a big point in the season for us because we needed those wins, we needed to play well, we needed to get our confidence up, because now it doesn’t get much easier from here on us.” UNC (16-7, 6-4) won its first-ever conference game against the Fighting Irish (12-12, 3-8) thanks to its defensive pressure. The Tar Heels had a season-best 13 steals and forced 17 Notre Dame turnovers, the second-highest total of the season for the Fighting Irish. UNC converted the turnovers into 23 points, including eight on the fast break. “That’s where they’ve gotten better since the beginning of the ACC season,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “They are really defending.” For UNC, junior James Michael McAdoo had a game-high 18 points, a team-high eight rebounds and four steals, Paige had 16 points and six assists and J.P. Tokoto had 13 points, seven rebounds and four steals despite a sprained wrist. Unlike their last two games, when UNC jumped out to leads of 18-4 against N.C. State and 19-3 against Maryland, there was no fast start for the Tar Heels on Saturday. Notre Dame made its first four 3-pointers and led 19-10 almost 12 minutes in. But the Fighting Irish only made 2 of 17 from behind the arc after that point, and UNC clogged the lane to keep Notre Dame from scoring inside (the Tar Heels had a 44-26 edge in points in the paint). UNC also turned up the aggressiveness on defense by putting more pressure on the ballhandler. “We were allowing them to run their offense and get the shots they wanted,” Paige said. “We always talk about taking something away — deny a passing lane, or pressure their guards on the perimeter. We were letting them run what we call dummy offense, where there’s no defense. Once we started taking them out of what they do, we settled in defensively and got more stops.” The Tar Heels closed the first half on a 17-4 run to take the lead and opened the second half with an 8-2 run to go up 35-25. “We survived their early start,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “I thought our team, the last few minutes of the first half, really grew some today. They played with some poise. We had some things go wrong and five guys got together and got it straightened out.” Williams was most pleased with the last possession of the first half. UNC was expecting to face man-to-man defense, but Notre Dame switched to a zone. Paige called out a new play and hit McAdoo for a lay-up with two seconds left. Though the Fighting Irish are 3-8 in the ACC, they had only lost one of those games by double digits entering Saturday. Notre Dame made one final run, scoring eight straight points to get within 57-49 with 4:26 left.
Tar Heels roll past Notre Dame
Durham Herald-Sun | Feb 9