CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina’s 63-61 win over Notre Dame is not the way head coach Roy Williams prefers his victories. The Tar Heels scored just nine points in the first 10 minutes of the second half and made just nine field goals.
Fortunately for Williams, his team isn’t just about scoring. The Heels are just as likely to win a game like Monday night's by getting stops as they are by getting buckets.
“I’ve said it before to have a really good team you’ve got to win some of those games ugly, you’re not going to be perfect every night,” Williams said. “We’ve been good enough in times past to impose our will on other people and we haven’t done that with this team, but we’ve competed hard enough and well enough to sneak in there 12 times in a row anyway.”
Williams said he was tired of winning games ugly, but it’s been the way Carolina has gotten it done of late. Marcus Paige and J.P. Tokoto made up for the rest of the team struggling offensively against NC State. The Heels also had a tougher than expected four-point win Saturday at last-place Virginia Tech.
Paige said style points don’t matter at this time of the year, the Heels just have to be able to find a way to win heading into the postseason.
“That’s going to come in handy maybe later on down the stretch in a tournament game when it’s a hostile environment, both teams are playing well and you still have to find a way to win,” Paige said. “That’s the most important thing. Are you tough enough to find a way to win? Are you tough enough to get a stop? We got multiple stops, a couple big blocks, came up with loose balls, that’s why we won the game.”
The Heels shot 50 percent and put up 41 points in the first half, which tied Florida State for the most scored against Notre Dame in ACC play in the first 20 minutes. They mustered only a season-low 22 points in the second half.
There were no second-half scoring heroics for Paige against the Irish. The Heels’ leading scorer with a penchant for scoring outbursts after halftime was held to a season-low seven points on 2-of-8 shooting.
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey used a diamond-and-1 defense to effectively keep Paige from getting open looks.
“At the seven-, eight-minute mark in the huddles we were like, ‘He’s going to start to go now,’” Brey said. “We saw what he did to NC State -- that was off the charts. We did a pretty good job of making somebody else beat us.”
Paige, who scored the game-winning layup to cap a career-high 35 points against NC State last week, still found a way to beat the Irish at the buzzer. He did it defensively by providing the game-clinching block on Eric Atkins’ drive to the basket with one second left.
Paige had all of five blocks the entire season. But he left Notre Dame guard Steve Vasturia, who was 2-of-6 from 3-point range, alone in the corner to help out.
“You could kind of see it in Atkins’ eyes that he was taking it and keeping it all the way to the basket,” Paige said. “So I just went all the way in and made that choice that I was going to try to defend the rim instead of giving them a 3. And I guess I guessed right. He tried to lay it up and I was there.”
During the second half Williams was upset with the way Leslie McDonald and Tokoto were playing defensively and took them out. But the Heels got a boost from an unlikely lineup combination that included freshmen Nate Britt and Isaiah Hicks along with reserve center Desmond Hubert to help cool off Notre Dame’s hot streak.
Notre Dame began the second half shooting 9-of-13 from the field as it rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit to take a 49-48 lead. In the final 10 minutes, the Tar Heels limited the Irish to 5-of-13 shooting. Carolina held them without a field goal for nearly an eight-minute span that lasted until 5:20 remained.
“I can’t say enough good things about what they did during that stretch,” James Michael McAdoo said. “Me and Nate talking on the ball screens, Isaiah getting out and denying and Desmond being kind of a quarterback out there and just helping everybody get to where they need to be. They definitely were huge for us.”
Paige added that Carolina’s 12th straight win heading into Saturday’s regular-season finale at Duke was huge too, no matter the manner in which the Heels won.
“Finding ways to win is important in March,” Paige said. “We didn’t play as well as we’d like to but we still found a way to win.”