marcus paige

No. 14 North Carolina overcomes sluggish second half to hold off Notre Dame

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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.

Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament chances take a major blow in loss to No. 16 SMU

SMU guard Nic Moore (11) shoots over Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
(AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
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Nic Moore scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and added 11 assists as No. 16 SMU knocked off Gonzaga in Moody Coliseum on Saturday night, 69-60.

The Zags got 20 points and 16 boards from Domantas Sabonis, but Kyle Wiltjer scored just four points and shot 2-for-17 from the floor.

It wasn’t pretty.

And it may have been the end of Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament hopes.

Entering Saturday, the Zags had an RPI in the mid-60s, enough to keep them in the bubble conversation but not enough to make them anything more than a team that will be projected to end up on the cut-line.

The issue is a complete lack of quality wins on their résumé. Gonzaga beat UConn in the Bahamas. That’s a borderline top 50 win. They beat Washington, another borderline top 50 win. Beyond that? They swept Pepperdine, beat Tennessee and own a win over Montana. None of those are top 100 wins, and that’s why the SMU game was such a big deal. The Mustangs are a top 25 team. This was a road game. This win was the kind of thing that the Zags could pin at the top of their profile.

But Wiltjer didn’t show up, the Zags had no answer for Moore and they’ll head back to Spokane needing, in all likelihood, to win the WCC’s automatic bid if they want to dance.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown: