Jan. 05, 2015
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) – Mike Brey wants his Notre Dame players to establish a pattern of consistent success in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Winning at North Carolina in Year 2 is a big step toward that goal.
Zach Auguste’s basket off an offensive rebound with 1:07 left helped the No. 13 Fighting Irish hold off the No. 18 Tar Heels 71-70 on Monday night.
Auguste’s basket got the lead back for the Fighting Irish (15-1, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), who blew an 11-point lead before surviving two late shots by preseason all-American Marcus Paige to clinch this one.
Now Notre Dame is 3-0 in league play for the first time – Big East or ACC – and off to its best start in 15 seasons under Brey.
“I always said my goal was could we create an identity in this league like we had in the Big East,” Brey said. “I was very proud of our consistency. We’ve not yet done that in this league. We’re still earning our stripes every day.”
Auguste scored 18 points while Pat Connaughton had 16 for the Irish, who shot 46 percent and overcame their own cold shooting down the stretch.
“At the end of the day, it’s something that we knew we could do, deep down inside,” Connaughton said of the 3-0 ACC start. “It’s not something that maybe everyone else thought we could do, but it’s something that we’ve been working toward.”
Paige finished with 15 points for the Tar Heels (11-4, 1-1), who went 1-for-14 in the final 7-plus minutes and missed their last eight shots – several in close – to fall a basket short.
Kennedy Meeks hit two free throws with 2:07 left for a 70-69 lead, UNC’s first since 4-2. But Auguste’s basket snapped a run of eight straight misses and was Notre Dame’s first basket in more than 9 minutes.
UNC had two chances to go back ahead, but Paige missed a contested drive in the final 10 seconds. Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia rebounded the miss and was fouled, but missed both free throws to ultimately give the Tar Heels a final possession with 1.6 seconds left from near midcourt that ended with Paige’s failed 3-point heave.
“The hoop had a lid on it at the end,” Paige said of UNC’s late struggles. “You have to make some of those, and those didn’t go in.”
Jerian Grant finished with eight points on 1-for-8 shooting with eight assists before fouling out with 2:07 left.
Notre Dame made 10 of 23 3-pointers. The Irish have won 11 straight and matched last year’s win total.
For the second straight day, UNC held a moment of silence for ESPN sportscaster Stuart Scott, an alumnus who died Sunday after a lengthy fight against cancer. UNC also honored Scott during Sunday’s women’s game against rival North Carolina State. Students on the baseline risers also held up signs reading “Stu” during the pregame announcement.
Meeks and J.P. Tokoto each scored 12 points, while freshman Theo Pinson had seven points and eight rebounds – all after halftime – to provide a spark.
Brey, Connaughton and Auguste all praised the team’s defense, which held UNC to 37 percent shooting.
“When we would have disappointing offensive possessions maybe last year, we’d hang our head and couldn’t guard,” Brey said. “This group is more mentally tough where they’ll go back and still defend and rebound.”
Connaughton missed the shot for the late lead, but Auguste was there to finish.
“I carved out some space, I saw the shot go up,” Auguste said, “and I just took off for it, came down and went up strong.”
Up next Notre Dame hosts No. 3 Virginia on Saturday.