Analysis: New heroes lead North Carolina basketball to third win in 5 days
As exhausting as the past week has been for North Carolina, coach Roy Williams’ players they still had energy left on Monday night.
Are the No. 14 Tar Heels tired? Not yet.
Joel Berry II scored 21 points and Theo Pinson added 16 points and 10 rebounds as North Carolina used a late charge to pull away down the stretch and extend its winning streak to three with an 83-66 victory over Notre Dame in Chapel Hill, N.C.
The Tar Heels’ brutal stretch of three games in five days began Thursday night with an 82-78 win against then-No. 9 Duke. They returned to the court less than 48 hours later and held on for a 96-89 win at North Carolina State on Saturday.
But North Carolina (20-7, 9-5 ACC) had no time to savor the back-to-back wins, which came after three consecutive losses. It was back on the floor for a nationally televised game against the Fighting Irish (15-11, 5-8), which had shown new life after snapping a seven-game losing streak of its own last week.
After watching Notre Dame backup forward John Mooney drain one 3-pointer after another in the first half, the Tar Heels outscored the Fighting Irish 45-32 in the second half to turn a 4-point halftime lead into a convincing win.
Rather than relying on star forward Luke Maye to lead them in scoring (as they typically do), the Tar Heels turned to Berry and role players Pinson, Kenny Williams (14 points) and Cameron Johnson (13).
Guarding John Mooney
Notre Dame missed its first 6 3-point attempts. Then Mooney found his shooting touch.
The backup forward got into a groove in the first half, hitting all 5 of his 3-point attempts to help the Fighting Irish stay close despite its poor shooting, trailing just 38-34 at halftime.
Mooney didn’t make a single shot and scored only 1 point in Notre Dame’s 84-69 win against Florida State on Saturday. But the 6-foot-9 sophomore was unstoppable off the bench against North Carolina, scoring almost half of the Fighting Irish’s points in the first half (15).
While Mooney drained outside shots, the rest of the Fighting Irish’s team made only 1 of 11 3-point attempts before halftime.
Fortunately for the Tar Heels, Mooney couldn’t keep up the pace in the second half.
He did make his only 3-pointer after halftime to finish 6 for 6 from beyond the arc, but he only had 3 points in the second half. Without his hot hand, the Fighting Irish couldn’t keep up with North Carolina.
Slow night for Luke Maye
Maye was dominant his previous outing, scoring 33 points and grabbing 17 rebounds in the win at N.C. State.
But the North Carolina forward had a relatively quiet night against Notre Dame — at least by his standards.
Maye made only 1 shot and scored just 4 points in the first half. He then wasn’t able to break out of his slow start and find his rhythm after halftime like he had done against the Wolfpack.
The junior made only 2 shots in the second half, finishing with 8 points on 3-for-11 shooting —the fewest points among North Carolina’s starters and more than 10 points less than his season average of 18.7.
But he chipped in with 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks.
Kenny Williams’ hot streak
Two weeks ago, Williams was in the midst of a scoring slump.
But the 6-4 junior continued his resurgence and once again shot with confidence. That’s good news for the Tar Heels.
Williams drained a pair of 3-pointers in the first half, then hit another one to extend North Carolina’s lead to 51-42 with 15 minutes, 42 seconds remaining in the game.
His 9 first-half points gave the Tar Heels a boost while Maye struggled and Pinson got off to a slow start.