For the 19th time, the North Carolina Tar Heels are heading to the men’s basketball Final Four. The top seeded Tar Heels disposed of the pesky Notre Dame Fighting Irish 88-74 in Sunday’s East Regional final played in Philadelphia.
The Irish tried to hang around on grit and determination, but the size and power of the Tar Heels proved to be too much. Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey used only six players in trying to contain the bigger Tar Heels, but his team wore down as the game entered the final ten minutes.
North Carolina led 43-38 at halftime and expanded the margin to 51-40 on a Kennedy Meeks layup with 15:48 to play. The Irish did not go away quietly.
A short jumper by Bonzi Colston, the only reserve to play, capped a 12-0 Notre Dame run, giving them a 52-51 lead with 13:04 left. North Carolina responded as great teams do.
In the next three and a half minutes, the Tar Heels put together a 12-0 run of their own to restore their advantage to 63-52. Beginning with the run, North Carolina scored on every offensive trip until the end with just one exception.
“These kids have been unbelievable,” said North Carolina Coach Roy Williams. “They made a huge run on us and we made a great run right back at them. These guys were phenomenal. It’s a fine feeling right now.”
While they missed some shots, the Tar Heels dominated the Irish on the offensive board. North Carolina had 13 offensive rebounds compared to Notre Dame’s 15 total rebounds. The Tar Heels had 32 total rebounds.
Unlike Friday night against Indiana, when North Carolina shot uncharacteristically well from beyond the three-point arc, they shot their season average of 31 percent on Sunday. It didn’t matter because with their offensive rebounding performance, they scored numerous second chance points.
North Carolina shot 62 percent from the field, but Notre Dame shot 55 percent, including 50 percent on their three point attempts. Unlike the Tar Heels, the Irish were unable to consistently get second chance points.
Brice Johnson had a huge game for North Carolina with 25 points and 12 rebounds. Marcus Paige added 13.
For Notre Dame, Demetrius Jackson scored 26 points to lead his team. V.J. Beachem had 18.
North Carolina is the only number one seed to survive the regionals. In addition to North Carolina, the Final Four will consist of a 10 seed (Syracuse) and two number two seeds (Villanova and Oklahoma).
The national semi-finals will be Saturday in Houston.