Entering Monday night, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (15-16, 6-12) needed a victory to hover above the .500 mark entering the postseason in an attempt to salvage some minor solace out of the worst season in Mike Brey's tenure.
Unfortunately, the North Carolina Tar Heels (23-7, 13-4) had other ideas and were riding an 11-game winning streak entering the evening. After a fast Tar Heel first half, the Notre Dame upset bid looked even bleaker.
However, despite a poor first half, the Irish made a torrid comeback effort, led by Pat Connaughton and senior guard Eric Atkins in his final regular season college game. Notre Dame quickly erased a 14-point halftime deficit with a 22-5 run after the break.
In the end, the Irish came up narrowly short, missing a chance to tie the game as time expired as Atkins' game-tying effort was swatted away by Marcus Paige.
Connaughton scored the first ten Irish points in the second half and finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds despite nursing a sore left ankle. Atkins finished with an impressive 21 on 9 of 17 shooting. The two captains were aided by freshman Steve Vasturia and his 11 points on a night when Notre Dame got few substantial contributions elsewhere without the services of Garrick Sherman (finger).
North Carolina was led by James Michael McAdoo, who had 14 points and 9 boards. He was joined in double figures only by J.P. Tokoto off the bench with 11.
Notre Dame rides into the postseason at one game under .500. They may need to win their first two ACC Tournament games in order to be included in the NIT, which may be a long-shot anyway. If things stand next week where they do now, the Irish would face Boston College then Clemson, against whom Notre Dame is 3-0 combined this season, so two wins is not necessarily that unreasonable.
The Irish have a little more than a week off until the tournament, so the staff should have a good opportunity to do some recruiting while most other teams still have games to play. We will hopefully have some updates on Brey and staff on the recruiting trail and bring you another Big Board soon enough.