Last night was an incredible night of action in the ACC, with four powerhouse top-20 teams squaring off for spots in the ACC championship. Both games went down to the wire, and we find ourselves with a quite unexpected championship matchup. Miss any of the action? We have you covered, as well as a brief preview of tomorrow's championship game.
#5 North Carolina 71, #1 Virginia 67
The night's first showdown pitted the 19th ranked Tar Heels, coming off a tight win over Louisville, against the 3rd ranked Cavaliers, looking to lock up a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The large, athletic Heels were able to shut down the Hoos' offense to start the game, and they rode some hot three-point shooting to a 30-23 halftime lead. While the Tar Heels maintained the lead throughout the second half, they were never able to put away the Cavaliers, who made their inevitable late-game charge behind heroics from first-team All-ACC guard Malcolm Brogdon. The Hoos were able to cut the lead to 1, but they suffered two crucial missed 3-pointers from injury-hampered forward Justin Anderson. Junior point guard Marcus Paige hit a huge jumper to give the Heels some breathing room, and they did not falter from the charity stripe. Despite the late drama, North Carolina led for all 40 minutes, riding 22 points and knockdown shooting from Justin Jackson.
#3 Notre Dame 74, #2 Duke 64
In the night's finale, the 11th ranked Irish burst out of the gate, showing incredible defensive intensity to gain a quick 18-5 advantage over the 2nd ranked Blue Devils. Freshman forward Bonzie Colson played with his signature fearlessness, going right at Duke's stud big man Jahlil Okafor for 14 first-half points. Surprisingly, the Irish did nearly all of their damage in the paint, utilizing some great drives to the rim from Demetrius Jackson. In fact, the Irish didn't hit a deep ball until V.J. Beachem's trey with 22 seconds left in the half, which sent the Irish into the break with a 15-pont lead.
After the previous night's scare, Irish fans were surely wary of a Duke comeback, and the Blue Devils stepped up their effort in the second half. They fed Jahlil Okafor, who demonstrated why he was the conference player of the year by willing Duke back into the game via his 28 points. A Tyus Jones 3 brought the Blue Devils within 4 points with 3 minutes left, but Okafor missed a couple of huge free throws that could have made it a one-possession game. Irish captain Pat Connaughton hit an enormous fadeaway jumper to give the Irish a 6-point cushion, and they iced the game on free throws. Read our alstein's recap of the game here.
ACC Championship Game: #3 Notre Dame vs. #5 North Carolina—8:30 ET, ESPN
That's right, folks, your Notre Dame Fighting Irish are appearing in their first ever conference championship game. In what is possibly the biggest game of the Mike Brey era, the Irish will face off against a traditional ACC blue-blood, the North Carolina Tar Heels. The Irish held onto a one-point victory in Chapel Hill way back in early January to win their first conference road game. Expect a similar road atmosphere tonight, with an overwhelming amount of Tar Heel fans filling Greensboro Coliseum. Before the tournament started, I picked the Irish to claim their first ever conference crown. After a performance like last night's, could you really expect me to change my mind?
Prediction: Notre Dame 72, North Carolina 64
Make sure you check in here at OFD throughout the day, where we'll have a more in-depth game preview (for your convenience) and game thread (for your complaining about refs). 8:30 can't come soon enough. #NotDoneYet