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Off the cuff: North Carolina’s 31-point margin of victory is the largest ever in an ACC Tournament semifinal game, passing UNC’s 30-point win over Maryland (88-58) in 1989 and Virginia’s 29-point win over Georgia Tech (96-67) in 1983.

Is this the beginning of a big NCAA run or an anomaly? Time will tell but it's certainly a good sign that Paige is scoring and the Tar Heels played well with Johnson in foul trouble and playing just 16 minutes.


Tar Heels 78, Notre Dame 47
Huge run avenges losses to Notre Dame

North Carolina went on an 18-0 run at the end of the first half and scored the first six points of the second half and ran away with a 78-47 win over Notre Dame to earn the right to play for the ACC Tournament Championship. (3/11)

The Tar Heels, who play for the tourney title Saturday night, have lost four of the last five times they have reached the championship game, including to Notre Dame last season. A game at South Bend earlier this year also stuck in the Tar Heels' minds. Carolina led big in that game and allowed the Irish to come back and win.

"We felt like we gave one away when we played them at Notre Dame. Also they beat us in the ACC Championship game last year," UNC's Marcus Paige said. "We were really hungry for this one."

Paige, who popped in four three-pointers, led the way for Carolina with 16 points and seven assists. "To knock down some shots like I know I'm capable of doing, hopefully will translate to the rest of year," he said.

UNC coach Roy Williams credited Carolina's defense at the end of the first half with the game-winning run. But he also said Notre Dame was tired after going to overtime Thursday night to beat Duke.

"I think it did a lot to take some legs out of Notre Dame," Coach Williams said. "We were fortunate. I thought we played really well defensively the last five or six minutes of the first half, but they also missed some shots."

The Tar Heels led just 23-22 with six minutes left in the first half. That's when Carolina reeled off 18 straight points, starting with an Isaiah Hicks dunk and ending with a three-point bucket with two seconds left in the half.

To start the second half, Brice Johnson, who missed several minutes in the first half with foul trouble, scored twice and Justin Jackson dunked one to put Carolina in total command at 47-22.

The lead never got under 20 again and it got as high as 37 at 78-41 with three minutes left.

Joining Paige in double figures were four other Tar Heels. Johnson, who played only 16 minutes, scored 12 points as did Joel Berry, who hit a pair of threes. Jackson and Hicks each contributed 11. Hicks also hauled in a game-high 15 rebounds.

Carolina didn't shoot great, only 43.5 percent, but the Heels held Notre Dame to 30 percent shooting.

"Our defense is definitely peaking," Paige said. "We turned the corner a little bit defensively these past several weeks where we've been holding teams to low field goal percentages, doing a better job on the backboards."

The Tar Heels, now 27-6, plays Virginia at 9 p.m. Saturday for the ACC Tournament title.

"We're definitely hitting our stride," Paige said, "but I still don't know what our peak is, which is probably a good thing.

Notre Dame, 21-11, will surely get an NCAA bid when they are announced Sunday evening.


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