North Carolina looked like it would cruise to victory over Notre Dame on Monday at home in an ACC contest, but the Fighting Irish had other ideas as the second half began.
Despite leading 41-27 at halftime, No. 14 North Carolina needed a game-saving block from point guard Marcus Paige with under four seconds left to preserve a 63-61 win over Notre Dame. North Carolina needed a 7-0 run in the game’s final minutes to give them a five-point lead and held on to beat the Irish on the final possession after Paige missed two of his final three free throw attempts.
Monday’s contest gives North Carolina 12 straight wins in the ACC.
After it looked like Notre Dame would roll over after a mediocre first half, the Irish came out aggressive in the second half, as a 22-5 run gave Notre Dame a 49-44 lead. Notre Dame threw some different defensive looks at the Tar Heels, including a Diamond-and-1 and North Carolina’s offense struggled to adjust for much of the half.
On the defensive end, North Carolina was also worrisome — at times — as its transition defense had multiple breakdowns and the Tar Heel defense struggled on ball screen defense.
Still, North Carolina stepped up when the game was on the line and its 1-3-1 defense created some turnovers and got some stops as James Michael McAdoo (14 points), Brice Johnson (nine points) and Paige (seven points) made plays down the stretch.
North Carolina has to be concerned with its prolonged no-show on both ends of the floor in the second half, though. Notre Dame was depleted, playing without Garrick Sherman, and still gave the Tar Heels a great fight despite falling to 1-8 on the road in ACC play. Against a more talented team, a run like that could have cost North Carolina the game, but maybe this is a wake-up call in the midst of the 12-game winning streak.
Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.
After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.
Video credit: Wyoming Athletics
Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.
Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.
Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.
Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.
Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.
But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.