WASHINGTON – The North Carolina team that obliterated Notre Dame by a 78-47 count in the ACC semifinals Friday night – the same Tar Heels gave up 78 points to Georgia Tech and even trailed the Yellow Jackets in the Smith Center with less than six minutes to play when the teams played in January.
How does that happen?
Fairly simple – the Tar Heels were playing at a far higher level Friday night.
“We’ve seen spurts of offense where they’re explosive, but the combination of offense and defense creating turnovers, creating steals, blocked shots – that combination with the offense, it’s one of the first times that we’ve seen like that,” said Eric Montross, the UNC radio analyst and former Tar Heels star.
It has been a season-long challenge for the seventh-ranked Tar Heels – getting a roster packed with high school All-Americans and likely NBA draft picks to dial all the way in.
“I wish that we had a switch that they could turn on,” Montross said. “It may just have been that it’s taken them that long to recognize what they had to do. And it sounds silly, because it seems so obvious. All of us watching them have been begging for that kind of intensity all year long, but I think that they’re starting to recognize that they have some opportunity and in order to capitalize on it, they’ve got to keep it at a high level.”
In Tech’s 86-78 loss to the Tar Heels on Jan. 2, the Jackets’ ACC opener, Tech played with energy and put together a 15-4 run to take a 25-19 lead midway through the first half, led by as many as nine and went into halftime up 42-39. In the game, guard Marcus Georges-Hunt scored 25 points with six rebounds and 12-for-15 shooting from the free-throw line. Guard Adam Smith scored 20 with 6-for-10 shooting from 3-point range.
Tech deserves credit, too. The Jackets did what they’ve done most of the season – play with effort, run effective offense, limit the opponent’s 3-point shooting.
In that game, North Carolina took control in the final 6:03, outscoring the Jackets 21-11 with frequent trips to the free-throw line. Guard Joel Berry II scored 11 of the 20 points.
Friday night, Notre Dame, which possesses one of the most efficient offenses in the country, shot 30 percent from the field, scored a season-low 47 points and turned the ball over a season-high 17 times. The 31-point margin of victory was the largest ever in ACC tournament history for a semifinal.
“I thought their defense, from what I watched, was a different level than I’ve seen all season,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “We couldn’t make passes.”