ACC Basketball

Notre Dame Wins ACC Tournament

(AP Photo/Gerry Broome) (Gerry Broome)

I love the movie Rocky. If you’re a man with a pair between your legs and you don’t love Rocky, then just click off this site, we have nothing to talk about.

As a kid, the one thing that I loved about that movie were the boxing scenes. I mean, the fights weren’t realistic by any measure, but the way they always swung back and forth were fun to watch. Rocky would be getting pummeled by Apollo Creed, but suddenly he would start pummeling Creed, like the 24 straight direct shots to his face and body had no effect on him and then visa versa. Again, that’s not how real boxing is…but that is how college basketball is.

What makes this sport so awesome are the swings that take place in a game. How many times have we watched a game and thought, “man, there’s no way this team is recovering from this run,” but only a few minutes later they’re on their own run? That’s the beauty of the sport and it was on full display in the ACC Tournament title game between North Carolina and Notre Dame.

In the first round, the Tar Heels jumped out early using their size and skills on the glass to open up a 19-13 lead. It got so bad on the boards, I almost thought Carolina was missing on purpose, simply because a offensive rebound is a more efficient offense for them.

Yet, the Irish got off the ropes and started to swing back, responding with a 15-2 run of their own, thanks to the long ball (because chicks dig the long ball), opening up a 28-21 lead.

Even when Jerian Grant picked up three fouls (two offensive charges), Notre Dame was able to maintain a five-point lead at the half when Steve Vasturia hit a three as time expired. For the half, the Irish made five threes to Carolina’s one, while the Tar Heels had a +4 edge in offensive rebounding.

However, in the second the Tar Heels came out swinging like Clubber Lane on a Tuesday and exploded for a 16-2 run. In less than five minutes, a five-point Tar Heels’ deficit was a seven-point lead. While there was still plenty of time left to play, it didn’t look good for the Irish as Jerian Grant appeared to be hesitant attacking the rim (thanks to the three fouls) and Notre Dame was staggering.

Behind Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige (who had just two points in the first half, but 24 in the second), North Carolina stretched the lead to nine, 63-54 with ten minutes left to play. I saw little reason to not think the Tar Heels were ten minutes away from cutting down the nets.

Yet, the Tar Heels suddenly got sloppy with the ball, turning it over five times in less than four minutes, while the Irish started running, passing and finding open shooters. Actually, Notre Dame’s offense started to click a little earlier, as Grant finally forgot about the fouls and started to attack the lane and Carolina was struggling to stop him. The problem was, the Irish weren’t stopping North Carolina…until those turnovers.

The next thing we know, before we had time to run to the bathroom, Notre Dame would go on a stunning 26-3 run and led 80-66 after another Pat Connaughton three at 3:30. Out of nowhere, the house packed with Carolina blue was being filled with “let’s go Irish” chants, which reminded me of only one thing…

There would be no Carolina comeback, as 26-3 runs late in the game tend to feel like knockouts.

The Irish would hit 10-for-12 from the FT line to seal up their first ever conference tournament championship, beating UNC 90-82.

Like they’ve done so often this season, Notre Dame won it with everyone, as all five starters scored in double figures. Despite the foul trouble, Grant (the ACC Tournament MVP) scored 24 points and dished out 10 assists. His fellow senior, Connaughton scored 20 on 4-for-5 from three.

Of course in our game preview, we said two things had to happen for the Irish to win. They would need to hit threes and get to the FT line, something possible against the Tar Heels, who struggle to defend the deep ball and also foul more than anyone else in the ACC.

Well, Notre Dame hit 10 threes for the game and got to the line 32 times, hitting 28 of them. They also did a great job on minimizing the damage done on the boards. After Carolina outscored the Irish early in second chance points (11-4), they closed the rebounding gap, losing it by just two (28-26).

The Tar Heels would end up hitting 53% of their shots from the floor and had an impressive 21 assists, but too many turnovers (13) cost them opportunities. After starting the second half 10-for-12 from the floor, they went seven minutes down the stretch with just two buckets.

Paige’s 24 led the way, while Brice Johnson hit a solid 10-for-12, scoring 20. However, coming off his best game of the year, Justin Jackson went 0-for-7 from three, as the Tar Heels nailed just 7-of-24 from deep.

For North Carolina, no shame in losing to a solid team. The fact is, it’s not easy to win four in four days, even in your own backyard. At the very least, the Tar Heels are a lock for a four-seed in the NCAA Tournament and may have played their way into a 3-seed, although I wouldn’t bet on it.

Like we mentioned up top, this is the first time the Irish basketball team has ever won a conference anything (regular season or tournament), although they were an independent for a long time. Also, this is the first time in ACC history that the league has gone four years without either Duke or North Carolina winning the tournament championship.

Looking ahead, it’s always nice going into the tournament hot, but keep in mind, of the previous three ACC tournament winners, none advanced past the Sweet 16. There may be some talk that Notre Dame could earn a 2-seed now in the NCAA Tournament, but I wouldn’t count on it. Their SOS is still only #101 in the nation and I don’t see how they get above a three seed still.

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