CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — North Carolina coach Roy Williams said his team was the lucky one Monday night.
The 14th-ranked Tar Heels found an uptick in offense at just the right time, then benefitted from the sixth blocked shot of the season from point guard Marcus Paige to foil Notre Dame’s upset bid.
North Carolina came away with a 63-61 victory over the Irish at the Smith Center, the Tar Heels’ 12th consecutive win.
“Notre Dame was very unlucky,” Williams said. “We were the lucky ones tonight. … Feel very lucky and weird.
“I’m so tired of winning games ugly. It’s better than losing games ugly.”
The victory was not finalized until the Irish guard Eric Atkins was unable to score on a drive into the lane for the game’s last shot. The shot was partially blocked by Paige.
“I was in the right help spot,” Paige said. “It would have been a tough shot anyway.”
Atkins, who finished with 21 points, said he saw an opening.
“I thought I just had a clean layup,” he said, “but someone got there.”
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said it made sense to go for the tie at that juncture because of how Atkins sliced into the lane.
“That was a pretty good read for him to get in there,” Brey said.
North Carolina (23-7, 13-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) moved into third place. The Tar Heels have a chance to finish anywhere from second to fourth place.
Notre Dame (15-16, 6-12) closed its first ACC regular season by losing four of its final five games. The Irish played without second-leading scorer Garrick Sherman, a senior center who sat out due to a hand injury.
Notre Dame guard Pat Connaughton scored 10 of his 17 points in the first 3:08 of the second half as the Irish closed within 42-37 after trailing by 15 points late in the first half. Guard Steve Vasturia had 11 points for Notre Dame.
“We defended well enough,” Brey said. “A couple of key turnovers at times hurt us.”
Forward James Michael McAdoo scored 14 points for the Tar Heels. Forward J.P. Tokoto added 11 points.
Paige made a 12-foot jumper to break a 50-50 tie with less than six minutes left. The Irish scored six of the next eight points before the Tar Heels surged.
McAdoo scored on a jumper from the lane in transition before a Notre Dame turnover and forward Brice Johnson’s basket gave North Carolina a 59-56 lead. Tokoto hit a jumper for the Tar Heels before the Irish used their final timeout with 1:15 to go.
Connaughton converted a three-point play off an offensive rebound with 52 seconds left, pulling Notre Dame within 61-59.
Paige missed a jumper, but he retrieved the rebound off a deflection. Paige then drained one of two free throws with 17.4 seconds to go.
Atkins scored on a drive to the basket at the 8.8-second mark. Paige went 1-for-2 again from the line with 6.6 seconds left before he disrupted Atkins’ final attempt.
Earlier, Notre Dame pulled even at 44-44 with 14:51 left. Vasturia’s 3-pointer on the next possession gave the Irish a 47-46 lead.
North Carolina, which topped Notre Dame 73-62 on Feb. 8 at South Bend, Ind., scored only nine points in the first 14 minutes of the second half.
“We couldn’t throw it in the ocean there for a while,” Williams said.
Brey said he was encouraged that North Carolina shot only 40.9 percent from the field in the second half, when the Tar Heels were charged with seven of their 10 turnovers.
“We were really good (on defense) and in position,” Brey said. “There is something to build on there where we dug in defensively.”
The 22 second-half points for North Carolina matched the team’s fewest in a half this season. The Tar Heels also had 22 first-half points at Syracuse.
North Carolina led 41-27 at halftime after shooting 50 percent (16-for-32) from the field.
A couple of baskets off offensive rebounds by forward Joel James pushed North Carolina to a 23-13 edge with 7:50 left in the half.
The margin increased to 38-24 on Tokoto’s
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