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Instant Recap: Notre Dame 47 - UNC 78

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish defense of their ACC title comes crashing down at the hands of last year's runner-up.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

It was supposed to be the moment Notre Dame fans were hoping for. In successive trips, Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks each picked up their second fouls. There was a little over 6 minutes left in the first half and both headed to the bench. Bonzie Colson made a layup to cut the Tar Heel lead to 1 at 22-23. Instead of negating the UNC size and athleticism advantage, it had quite the opposite effect. Anyone with a peek at the script for the evening would have thought sending Johnson and Meeks to the pine early was part of the recipe for a 4th straight Fighting Irish win over North Carolina. Instead it was the beginning of the end of Notre Dame's defense of their 2015 ACC Championship. Mike Brey's squad failed to put up any resistance on either end and faltered to a demoralizing 78-47 loss at the hands of the tournament's top seed.

From that fateful moment, the Irish failed to score again for the remaining 6:10 of the half while the Tar Heels made off on an 18-0 run. With very little fear of the whistle, North Carolina turned up the defensive pressure and snuffed out the Irish offense and Notre Dame's will to compete. So often, this team has battled back from adversity, but facing a foe with the length, athleticism and confidence of North Carolina proved too much in Washington DC. Not a single break fell for Mike Brey's team, and they couldn't find that patented lightning strike that served them so well in South Bend in February and in Greensboro one year ago.

Before the tournament, the OFD staff discussed how important it would be for Notre Dame's starting back court to put up consistently strong numbers. Steve Vasturia was 0-6 from the floor, didn't attempt a free-throw and ended the night with more turnovers than assists and rebounds combined. Demetrius Jackson finished the night 1-10 from the floor and 6-7 from the line for 9 points. DJ also had more turnovers (3) than assists (2). It really doesn't matter what else happens when you get 9 points and 3 assists from those two guys - they're the engine that makes Notre Dame go. On the brighter side, V.J. Beachem continued his hot shooting from everywhere but the FT line. He was aggressive and hunted his shot, finishing with 11 on 4-7 from the floor and 3-6 from deep. Bonzie Colson also regained his touch with a team-high 15 on the night. Zach Auguste battled and battled, but struggled with the physical grinding allowed to play out down low. He finished with 6 points and 10 rebounds on the night.

Let's be clear, this wasn't just ND failing to get off the bus. When their 2 bigs went to the bench, UNC turned up the defensive pressure in a big way. With their depth, UNC bet on their ability to physically dominate the Irish all over the floor. They bumped, ground, and held their way to keeping the Irish offense from initiating on the perimeter. Notre Dame frequently struggled to get anything going within 25 feet of the rim. Closer to the basket, the Tar Heels bumped and jumped with impunity and played volleyball on the backboard, leading to 19 offensive rebounds. I think you could make a serious case that UNC gets better defensively when Johnson and (especially) Meeks take a seat. Their defensive mobility and attention to detail improved and once their back court of Marcus Paige (16 points) and Joel Berry II (12 points) starts making shots, their energy level starts to spike. You'll never catch me saying Carolina is better without Brice Johnson, but when Carolina shifted to guys like Isiah Hicks and Theo Pinson in a smaller line-up, their defensive intensity took a measured up-tick.

As a fan, I want to find some silver linings to these awfully dark clouds. First, I think Beachem emerging is a real thing. He's a confidence/feel guy and he seems to be getting better. Second, Matt Ryan is starting to show some edge. He wasn't willing to lay down. Third, Bonzie seems to be finding the touch back. Of course, none of this will matter if Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia can't find their way out of their current funk.

From an X's and O's perspective, there's not much to say about this level of a loss, and they probably shouldn't look at the tape with the guys, but the staff has to examine this in depth. Notre Dame drove to unforeseen heights of offensive efficiency using high ball screens and sideline ball screens to deliver the ball in to scoring positions. Against the Tar Heels, there was no variety of screens, they were all up top for DJ. Almost every one of the screens was set far too high above the three point line, and far too many of them simply "missed" the on-ball defender. I realize the emphasis on moving screens has people reluctant to set good ones, but the Irish need to do a better job of getting the ball handler to set up his man and get an effective rub. The big can't slip every single time, and why have we abandoned the sideline PnR? We need variety in our screen and roll game, or this offensive funk is going to hang around.

This was a painful one to watch and was particularly difficult after the highs of Thursday's victory over Duke. Don't let one bad night knock you out. Notre Dame is still the 2015 ACC Champion, and had a very successful season so far. They played to their seed in the ACC Tournament, and will now enter the NCAA tournament as a light favorite in their opening game next week. We here at OFD will have more on the Irish in the NCAA Tournament over the next several days as we all lick our wounds and get ready for the next challenge.