Streaking UNC pulls out win over Notre Dame

Mar. 03, 2014 @ 11:24 PM

Seniors were honored. And even on an off night, their sophomore leader secured a final home victory.

Sophomore Marcus Paige came up big in the clutch, providing offense, defense and play-marking in the final three minutes of a 63-61 ACC victory over Notre Dame Monday night. The No. 14 Tar Heels (23-7, 13-4 ACC) kept a 12-game winning streak alive heading to rival Duke, overcoming a blown 15-point lead.

“I did what I could to try and help and was in the right spots,” Paige said.

None were more right than playing help defense in the lane as Eric Atkins drove for a potential tying basket. Paige blocked the shot just before the final buzzer.

“You could see it in his eyes, he was taking it to the rim,” Paige said. “I guessed right, and he tried to lay it up and I was there.”

As he’s been all year, even on a night when he missed six of eight from the floor, plus two of his four foul shots in the final 17.4 seconds. Afterward, his dejection was noticeable.

“You can’t have these sluggish games,” he explained.

In the final three minutes, Paige found James Michael McAdoo on a secondary break giving the Tar Heels the lead for good, 57-56. He snatched a pass to thwart Notre Dame’s next possession.

An offensive rebound of his miss at the shot clock, up just two, led to two of his four foul shots in the final 17.4 seconds. And then he blocked the Fighting Irish’s final shot.

“That’s what Marcus does, that block at the end of the game,” McAdoo said. “He’s the heartbeat of this team. It’s not necessarily scoring. He does other things, like finding me late in the game, and then being a defensive stopper.”

Paige’s winning plays preserved victory in a contest North Carolina once led 41-26. Notre Dame made 8 of 11 to open the second half while the Heels missed their first six, sending the Irish in front 47-46.

“To have a good year, you have win some games ugly,” said North Carolina head coach Roy Williams. “I’m tired of winning ugly.

“But it’s a heck of a lot better than losing.”

Paige had six assists and only scored seven points — a long way from his 35-point crusher at N.C. State.

McAdoo led the Tar Heels with 14 points and nine rebounds. J.P. Tokoto added 11 points and six rebounds, not missing a shot and making his only second-half attempt for a 61-58 edge.

Notre Dame was led by Atkins with 21 points, Pat Connaughton with 17 points and 13 rebounds, and Steve Vasturia with 11 points.

The Fighting Irish (15-16, 6-12 ACC) are off until opening the ACC Tournament, most likely on Wednesday in games involving seeds 10-16.

“We had a comfortable lead and then expected them to roll over and die,” Paige said. “They came back and it meant more to them.”

Desire won’t be an issue Saturday at Duke. The last time North Carolina was on such a roll heading into a Duke game was 2001, when it had won 14 straight in a streak that eventually grew to 18.

“We haven’t accomplished anything,” Williams said. “We have big-time dreams and goals.”

Contact the writer at awooten@hendersondispatch.com.