Quick Hitters from North Carolina’s 88-74 win over Notre Dame in the Elite 8:
- First off, biggest play of the game was the steal by Theo Pinson with 12:22 left in the game. Although Marcus Paige had just hit a jumper to stop a 12-0 Notre Dame run and put the Tar Heels back in the lead 53-52, the Irish had all the momentum. Theo’s steal ignited the bench and things progressed positively from there.
- The crucial juncture of the game was the 12-0 Notre Dame run midway through the 2nd half to take a 52-51 lead. Rather than packing it in, the veteran Tar Heels responded in kind, with a 12-0 run of their own and never looked back. All of this run happened with Brice Johnson on the bench, having just picked up fouls 2 & 3 (the latter of which was a technical).
- Getting back to Theo Pinson, he provided a huge spark this evening. His stat line was solid, but not overly impressive if you didn’t see the game: 6 points on 2-2 shooting, 2 rebounds (both offensive), 4 assists, 1 steal, 0 turnovers. But if you did see the game, you know how important every one of those stats was. Almost all of this stat line came in 2 critical stretches of the 2nd half – all after the Brice Johnson technical. Stretch #1 (12:22-8:37). Situation: Notre Dame has just reeled off the 12-0 run to take the lead and gain momentum. Carolina could fold, or respond. Enter Theo: The 1 steal in the stat line is the aforementioned biggest play of the game at 12:22. Subsequently, although he missed both free throws (which provided the craziest play of the game when Isaiah Hicks had a left-handed tip-in from 5 feet out off the 2nd miss), he drew the 3rd foul on Zach Auguste at 10:57. He then secured his first two points with a lay-up at 10:01 while guarded by the now-saddled-with-3-fouls Zach Auguste who couldn’t play aggressive defense. Next, at 9:21, off a beautiful, standard-issue Kennedy Meeks full court outlet pass, Pinson threw a nice alley-oop to Hicks for one of his 4 assists. Then, at 8:40, he corralled an offensive rebound in traffic (with all 5 Notre Dame players surrounding him) and put it back for points 3 and 4. Stretch #2 (2:07-1:39). Situation: The Tar Heels are maintaining a pretty comfortable 10 point cushion, but the game is not out of reach. Enter Theo: At 2:07, Justin Jackson snags an offensive rebound and kicks it back out to a wide-open Pinson at the top of the key. Pause. Syracuse was in the exact same situation just a few hours earlier. Up 6, Tyler Lydon got an offensive rebound and kicked it out to a wide-open Michael Gbinije at the top of the key. He promptly fired a 3. With a fresh 30 on the shot clock. Up 6. With 2:37 to in the Elite 8. Would Theo suffer the same fate? No, he pulled the ball out, found Berry and the Tar Heels ran clock until the Irish decided it was time to start fouling. At 1:54, Justin Jackson missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and Theo had a tip-out to Joel Berry for offensive rebound number 2. To wrap up stretch #2, Pinson was fouled at 1:39 and sank both free throws in a 1-and-1 situation to give Carolina a 12 point lead. Mr. Theo Pinson earned his trip to the press conference on this night.
- With 25 points and 12 rebounds tonight, Brice Johnson broke a record and tied a record. The double-double was his 23rd of the season and is the most by a Tar Heel in one season. The 12 rebounds gives him 399 on the season, which places Brice in a tie with Tyler Hansbrough’s 2007-08 season for the most by a Tar Heel in one season. Should Brice secure 1 rebound against Syracuse he would hold the single-season rebound record and be the only Tar Heel to ever get 400 in a season.
- At this point, I’m convinced Marcus Paige was sandbagging all season. In all seriousness, so glad for Marcus and the re-start that the tournament has allowed him.
- Coming into the game this Tar Heel team had the best assist-to-turnover ratio and the lowest turnovers per game average of any Tar Heel team since turnovers were first recorded in 1981-82. Carolina only had 6 turnovers tonight (versus 17 assists), so both those numbers should continue to improve.
- Big play when Demetrius Jackson hurt his ankle. He was clearly at least somewhat hobbled and Joel Berry was able to take advantage on several drives to the hoop.
- This is the first time I remember seeing Brice’s emotions affect the game in such a monumental way. Getting a 2nd foul was no big deal, but the subsequent technical foul (& therefore 3rd personal) which sent him to the bench really hurt. It was in the middle of the Notre Dame 12-0 run and could have potentially effectively ended the North Carolina men’s basketball season. Fortunately, his teammates picked him up and it didn’t end up hurting. Brice was quick to take the blame at the top of the press conference.
- Another solid game from Kennedy Meeks. Although he only played 15 minutes, he scored 10 points on 4-4 shooting and hit both free throws he shot.
- The “burn” offense. Great tactic from Mike Brey. Certainly a source of frustration for the Heels in the 1st Also allowed the Irish to stay in the game while Zach Auguste was on the bench in foul trouble. All the same, for the most part, the Heels showed great defensive patience and stayed dialed in for the full shot clock. I should also say, I’m not sure Notre Dame was still using this tactic down 12 with 5 minutes to go. I think they should have abandoned this approach much sooner than they did, but that’s why they pay Mike Brey and not Isaac Schade.
- Tonight, the Irish had the highest FG% (55.1%) against the Tar Heels all season. Previous to this, the Heels had held 28 straight opponents under 45%. This was only the 2nd time all season a team has shot over 50% against Carolina.
- Hats off to Notre Dame. Back-to-back Elite 8s. Came in with a great game plan tonight and executed it. They are a classy program, who works hard and plays the game well. Certainly going to miss watching the departing players in the ACC.