The ACC tournament championship game was basically a home affair for North Carolina, but the fans support wasn’t enough to hold on to a promising lead as they got swept aside by Notre Dame in a 90-82 win that just so happens to be the first ever conference tournament title in any league.
The Tar Heels weren’t expected to be in this final but did a terrific job in the semifinal win over Virginia, showing once again that they may have what it takes to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. UNC led by eight points (64-56) with 9:21 left in the game but Notre Dame went on a 24-2 run in the next six-and-a-half minutes, going 9-of-13 from the field and forcing six turnovers out of North Carolina, who haven’t won the tournament since 2008.
For Notre Dame, who haven’t even been to a tournament final during all their years in the Big East, it was non other than Jerian Grant, scoring 24 points and adding 10 assists that led the way. Worth a mention is Pat Connaughton with 20 points and 4-of-5 from beyond the arc. Their entire lineup finished in double figures, including 16 points from Zach Auguste and the team shooting 10-of-20 from three point range.
Both teams shot very well from up close, but North Carolina not making their long range shots, be it from three or two, made the difference, especially in that run when everything collapsed. Marcus Paige did well in the point guard duel with 24 points and Brice Johnson turned up with 20, but Justin Jackson shot 0-for-7 from three and just 3-of-12 from the field to score just 7 points. It always takes three Tar Heels to make a difference, but Roy Williams got only two of his starters to perform at the expected level, while Kennedy Meeks played only 17 minutes due to foul trouble.
With this win, the selection committee just might put Notre Dame as a number two seed when they announce their bracket at the end of selection sunday. Notre Dame are just the eighth team in the last 35 years to beat Duke and North Carolina twice in a season and only the fourth team in conference history to beat Duke and North Carolina in the semifinal & final of the ACC Tournament, although none of those teams went on to do something very special in the NCAA tournament.
The biggest message from this win by the Irish is that offense can do great things. Common wisdom suggests that defense is what works in win-or-go-home tournaments, but the Fighting Irish just might be the best in the nation when it comes to putting up points and fast on the board, with Grant, a possible top 15 pick in the draft that comes in a few months and the ACC tournament MVP, holding the responsibility of carrying this team through, possibly akin to how Shabazz Napier did for UConn last season, playing like the best player in the nation.