The two favorites in the ACC are out of the tournament, as Virginia found out that defending against North Carolina isn’t very easy, losing 71-67, while Duke were suffering from an awful shooting day in a 74-64 loss to Notre Dame.
When Virginia, ranked three in the nation, last met with the Tar Heels, they held them to 64 points. North Carolina (#19) fell seven spots down the rankings compared to that meeting. But the famous defense the Cavaliers are known for couldn’t keep up with the extraordinary shooting night from Justin Jackson, getting plenty of help from Brice Johnson (having a fantastic tournament) and Marcus Paige.
Jackson, a freshman, scored 22 points as the Tar Heels pulled off their second upset of another ranked team in the tournament following their win over Louisville. Their ability to score in the paint has been usually the difference between wins and losses this season, but despite their big, forward studded lineup, it was their outside shooting on this occasion (7-of-14 from beyond the arc) that made the difference.
This is the fourth tournament final in five years for the Tar Heels, losing three in a row between 2011 and 2013. Their last ACC tournament title came in 2008 with a win over Clemson, making it back to back tournament titles after beating North Carolina State in 2007. The last time they won the tournament and went on to win the national title was back in 1982, when Michael Jordan and James Worthy were playing on the team.
So after the Tar Heels took care of business against Virginia, it was Notre Dame’s turn to pull off the upset in a game between two ranked teams. The Fighting Irish, #11 in the nation and have already beaten Duke (#4). Now, the Blue Devils have their first loss of the season on a neutral court (although anywhere in North Carolina that isn’t Durham is usually rooting against them). Two of their losses (out of four overall) are against Notre Dame.
Jerian Grant didn’t have a bad night (13 points, 7 rebounds) but it was the duo of Demetrius Jackson that led the Irish to their first NCAA Tournament title game scoring 15 points, backed up by 17 points from the bench provided by Bonzie Colson. Notre Dame hit 50% of their shots from the field and had no problem getting to the line with their speed and athleticism easily getting them into the paint, resulting in 22-of-25, while Duke had just 14 free throws in the entire game, making only 50% of them.
Duke couldn’t get anything going for them outside the paint, shooting 6-of-28 and just 3-of-17 from beyond the arc. Whenever it’s just Jahlil Okafor that’s having a strong performance, the Blue Devils usually don’t look very good. The freshman scored 28 points along with 8 rebounds, but Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones forced too many bad shots in order to make a difference.
Notre Dame are in the ACC tournament for only the second time, now having a shot to win their first conference title. Last season they didn’t make it past the first round, losing to Wake Forest. They also missed out on the NCAA tournament, their only time outside the dance in the last six seasons. They’ll be in this year, regardless of the outcome of their game against North Carolina; they lost by one point to the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill back in January.