SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Roy Williams wasn’t concerned about style points after No. 20 North Carolina beat Notre Dame for its first Atlantic Coast Conference road victory of the season.
“I feel the luckiest I’ve ever felt after the last minute of a basketball game,” Williams said after the 69-68 victory Saturday night. “Joel Berry gets fouled and makes two free throws when you’re down one. My frustration button is at a very high level right now.”
Berry II, saddled with three fouls in the first half, made two free throws with 7.1 seconds left for the winning points. But the Tar Heels (14-4, 3-2) allowed Notre Dame sophomore point guard T.J. Gibbs to dribble the length of the floor, get off a shot, rebound the miss and send the ball inside the cylinder before it, too, spun out at the buzzer.
Berry finished with 15 points, and Luke Maye had his 10th double-double of the season with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Theo Pinson added 13 points, and North Carolina finished with a 9-2 run while holding the Irish (13-5, 3-2 without a field goal in the last 5:58.
Gibbs, who scored both of those points for Notre Dame on free throws with 37 seconds remaining for a brief 68-67 lead, finished with a game-high 19 points and six assists for Notre Dame, which got 14 points from senior Martinas Geben and a career-high 12 points from sophomore reserve Nikola Djogo.
“Man, I feel for our guys – we battled so hard,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “It’s a tough one to swallow because you feel like you’re going to get it.”
The Irish, playing without injured starters Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell, used an eight-man rotation that frustrated Williams’ Tar Heels, who shot just 42.6 percent (26 of 61) and were outrebounded 45-37 by the Irish. Geben’s nine included seven off the offensive boards. Notre Dame shot just 34.8 percent (23 of 66) from the field but stayed in it with timely 3-pointers (10 of 24) that included the first ever of the 6-foot-10 Geben’s career.
“I thought they played harder than us, they played smarter than us,” Williams said. “Even on the last play, we did a good job defending the shot but we didn’t box him (Gibbs) out. I told Michael (Brey) I was so proud of his team.”
The game was close right from the opening tip, with neither team able to pull away by more than six points. There were 24 lead changes and the game was tied 12 times.
The Tar Heels led 40-37 at halftime during which Notre Dame endured a stretch of 6:54 without a field goal. Maye came up one rebound short of a double-double with 13 points and 9 rebounds, while Berry had nine points, all from beyond the arc before drawing his third personal in the final 2 minutes. Gibbs, who missed his first four shots, finally got on the board with 7:44 left and finished with nine points, one more than Geben.
Geben scored four points, had two offensive boards and took a charge as Notre Dame started the second half on an 11-7 run for a 48-47 lead with 14:40 to play.
After five straight points by Pinson gave the Tar Heels a 56-50 lead with 9:48 to play, Notre Dame called a timeout. A 10-4 spurt was highlighted by two 3-pointers by Gibbs after his backhanded missed field goal was hammered home by Rex Pflueger left the game tied at 60-60 with 6:53 left.
Djogo then hit two quick 3-pointers to put the Irish up 66-60 with 5:58 remaining. They would be the last field goals Notre Dame would make.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels, who lost games at Florida State and Virginia earlier this month, got their first ACC road victory and avoided three straight ACC road losses for the first time since 2014. North Carolina has had winning road records in 11 of its 14 seasons under coach Roy Williams, who got the 830th victory to tie Mount St. Mary’s Jim Phelan on the career list.
The milestone was the furthest thing on his mind.
“The tape session tonight is going to be a lot of fun, that’s all I can tell you,” Williams said.
Notre Dame: Matt Farrell, who has missed the last 2 1/2 games with a sprained ankle, dressed and led Notre Dame out of tunnel for pregame warmups but sat on the bench with fellow senior Bonzie Colson (broken left foot, eight weeks) as Brey used eight players, with five of them finishing in double digits in minutes in the first 20 minutes. Farrell is expected to practice Sunday and Monday and likely start Tuesday against visiting Louisville.
“I don’t mind praising another coach,” Williams said about Brey. “What he has done is given them a plan and hope that they can still be successful. They’ve gone from behind an efficient offensive team to a rebounding and defending team.”