WASHINGTON D.C. -- So this is what all the North Carolina noise was about.
The preseason No. 1 team in the country, the squad most everyone agreed had the most talent, the logical choice to win a national championship finally looked like it in the ACC tournament semifinals.
The Tar Heels transformed a 1-point lead into a 19-point bulge with a five-minute, 18-0 blitz to end the first half, essentially sweeping away Notre Dame. The Tar Heels ultimately won 78-47 and gave themselves a shot at their first ACC tournament title since 2008 and 18th overall.
But this game did more than just set up Carolina for a nice week in the nation’s capitol; it served notice just how good this team could be.
Here’s how it happened:
Buh-bye Irish: Bonzie Colson scrapped for a loose-ball rebound and scored on a reverse layup as Notre Dame moved within a point of the Tar Heels, 23-22. And that was pretty much the end of that for the Irish. North Carolina blocked shots, swiped passes and pretty much showed off its full arsenal on an 18-0 sprint that took all of five minutes to put together. By the time the Irish scored again -- on Colson’s free throws at the 16:38 mark of the second half -- North Carolina had added six more points to its run.
Don’t let offense mask the defense: The defense in that final five minutes of the half was not unlike the string the Tar Heels put together against Pitt on Thursday, when they essentially stopped the Panthers from scoring on six consecutive possessions. After the game, Roy Williams talked about how pleased he was with that effort, but wondered if his team could do it for a full game. “I’d like to see that for 40 minutes, but that’s pretty hard,’' he said. Carolina almost achieved that against Notre Dame. As good as the offense was, the defense matched it. The usually hot-shooting Irish connected on just 30 percent of their shots, including 26 percent from the arc, and a team that rarely turns the ball over coughed it up 17 times.
Is Marcus Paige back? The yip-plagued guard scored 16 points, the most he has managed since Feb. 6 against Notre Dame, a nine-game stretch. Maybe even bigger: He connected on four of his seven 3-pointers, including a pretty crossover pullup and a sweet step-back swish. Paige’s struggles have been well-documented and Williams has patiently insisted that he's confident his guard would rediscover his stroke. If this is a sign of that turnaround, it makes Carolina even more dangerous.
Here are the numbers: How dominant was Carolina? Before Williams kindly emptied his bench, here are some of the eye-popping numbers: 40-10 advantage in points in the paint; a 45-28 edge in rebounding and maybe most impressive, 21 assists on 30 made baskets.