The Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball team lost for the 6th game in a row and for the 13th time in 15 opportunities on Wednesday evening, falling at home to the North Carolina Tar Heels by a final score of 63 to 59 at Purcell Pavilion.
The Irish were led on the night by Cormac Ryan, who scored 14 points and had 7 rebounds and 3 assists. Trey Wertz had a nice game as well, scoring 13 points and grabbing 3 rebounds while also dishing out 3 assists of his own. J.J. Starling chipped in 10 points and Marcus Hammond added 9 before leaving the game with an injury.
As a team, Notre Dame shot 40% from the field and 30% from long range (7-for-23) for the game. They got absolutely dominated on the glass in this one, being out-rebounded 52-33 by North Carolina’s much bigger and tougher lineup.
The Tar Heels were paced in scoring by Armando Bacot (16 points, 11 rebounds) and Caleb Love (16 points, 5 rebounds), and R.J. Davis (12 points, 8 rebounds) and Pete Nance (11 points, 10 rebounds) contributed to the effort as well, while Leaky Black (6 points, 11 rebounds) added some nice moments in the winning effort, too. UNC shot 33% from the floor and an absolutely atrocious 9% from three-point range (2-for-23).
The first half of basketball was, in a word, ugly. The Irish went nearly 6 minutes without scoring their first points of the game, starting 0-for-5 from the floor before Wertz finally knocked down a three-pointer. The Tar Heels, meanwhile, had an equally rough start, going 1-for-6 in the early going and leading just 4-0 at the first media timeout of the game.
Just before the under-12 timeout, the Irish were shooting 1-for-9 and trailed 9-3 in an absolute rock fight. However, over the next few minutes, ND finally began to knock down some shots. They managed to cut the deficit to 3 at the 8-minute mark, thanks to Wertz and Ryan having scored 5 points each. The rest of the team was 0-for-7 from the floor at that point.
The Tar Heels didn’t take advantage of any of that rough shooting start from the Irish squad, though, struggling mightily to hit any shots or to manufacture any sort of offense. Notre Dame finally put some things together and utilized a 13-2 run fueled by long shots from Wertz, Hammond, and Ryan to take a 23-17 lead into the under-4 timeout.
ND extended their lead to 27-19 entering the final moments of the half, and then UNC’s D’Marco Dunn appeared to hit a buzzer-beater jumper as time expired to make it a 6-point Irish lead heading into the break. However, the officials reviewed it to see if he got it off, and overturned the call, saying he did not release the ball prior to the clock hitting 0.
Thus, Notre Dame entered the break up 27-19, with Hammond (9 points), Wertz (8 points), and Ryan (7 points) leading the way. The Tar Heels, on the other hand, finished the first half having shot 5-for-27 from the floor (19%), 0-for-11 from 3-point range, and managed to commit 8 turnovers and dish out not one single assist on any of their 5 made baskets.
In the second half, the Tar Heels turned around their shooting woes a bit, focusing more on scoring inside, shooting 7-of-12 from the floor to open the period, and using an 13-2 run to take back the lead.
From there, the two teams went back and forth, trading leads as Starling got going for ND and Bacot continued to do whatever he wanted down low. With about 10 minutes left to play, the game was all knotted at 42.
As the half progressed, the Tar Heels’ dominance inside over the Irish continued to rear its head, as UNC used countless offensive rebounds and second, third, and sometimes fourth chances to keep the Irish from holding a lead for long. Notre Dame kept fighting, though, and actually led 52-51 with just under 4 minutes remaining as the game entered its final media timeout with both teams really struggling to accomplish much of anything offensively.
In the final 4 minutes, North Carolina continued to pound it inside to Bacot and Nance and use offensive rebounds to ensure successful possessions, and took hold of a 3-point lead with under 2 minutes to go that the Irish cut to 1 multiple times, but could never get another stop to get a chance to take the lead, as the Heels always answered with a bucket of their own.
Starling managed a tough drive and bucket to make it 59-58 with just 30 seconds to go, but after nearly getting a stop, the Irish failed to corral a loose rebound and it went out of bounds off of the Irish, and the Heels would have a reset shot clock with which to operate. Caleb Love took care of his free throws from there, and ND fell once again in a very winnable game, this time by just 4 points.
With the loss, the Irish fall to 10-18 on the season (2-15 ACC). They will play next on Saturday, 2/25 at 7 PM ET, when they’ll travel to Winston-Salem to take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.