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Off the cuff: This game at Notre Dame seemed more like relief than anything else. The Tar Heels had lost their first two road ACC games this season - to Florida State and Virginia. Losing this one to a team without its two top scorers would probably have dashed Carolina hopes of a regular season title - even though it's still early.

Sadly, people don't seem to value regular season titles like they did two or three decades ago. Nor do they even value ACC Tournament championships. Everything isn't about the NCAA title. Only one team is going to get that - and it would be a lot to expect this Carolina team to repeat.

Each game in the regular season is as important as the next. If Carolina pulls this one out and then loses at home to Clemson for the first time ever on Tuesday night, it will have been a missed opportunity.

Coach Roy Williams was very unhappy with the Tar Heels effort, saying they didn't play as hard or smart as the Irish. About all he found time to praise were the free throws by Berry, the dunk by Maye and the "decent" defense over the last six minutes.

Well, that was enough evidently. Yes, Carolina should have played better and could very well have lost this game were it not for the cellophane the Tar Heel gods put over the rim in the last second. But the Tar Heels won and it was a big road win.

It's better to build off this win than build off a loss.

Tar Heels 69, Notre Dame 68
Berry's late FTs cap UNC's winning run

Trailing 66-60, North Carolina held homestanding Notre Dame without a field goal for nearly six minutes. But it took a pair of free throws by Joel Berry with seconds left to lift the Tar Heels to a key 69-68 victory. (1/13)

Playing without top scorers Bonzie Colson and Matt Ferrell, the Irish almost pulled it out at the end but a follow shot at the buzzer by T.J. Gibbs fell off the rim.

"We did a decent job defensively the last five or six minutes," said UNC coach Roy Williams who said he possibly felt the luckiest he's ever felt. "At the end, we did a good job defensively on his original shot but we didn't box him out and he got another shot."

Notre Dame players and fans immediately seemed deflated and frustrated while Carolina just seemed relieved. Coach Williams said he felt 'befuddled" and "dumbfounded" that his team came out with the win.

It played out like an ACC Tournament game as each possession seemed to mean a lot as there were 23 lead changes and nine ties during the game.

Despite Coach Williams' frustration, his Tar Heels did come through in the clutch as they outscored the Irish 9-2 over the last 5:52.

Joel Berry started the run with a driving layup and freshman Garrison Brooks followed that play up with a basket as he cut through the lane for a short push shot to draw the Heels within a bucket at 66-64 with 5:12 left.

Neither team could score over the next two minutes but UNC's Luke Maye got loose for an uncontested dunk on a set play to tie the score at 66 with 2:05 to go.

With 1:32 left, Maye hit one of two free throws - the first missing everything - to put Carolina back up 67-66.

The Tar Heels had a chance to extend the lead when Theo Pinson drew a charge on Gibbs with 1:05 left. But with the shot clock running down, Johnson missed badly from the baseline and Kenny Williams fouled out trying to get the rebound.

Gibbs subsequently hit both ends of a one-and-one to give the Irish the lead at 68-67 with just 37 seconds left.

Berry lost the handle on the ball and was tied up for a jump ball, possession Carolina, with 11 seconds left but only four seconds left on the shot clock. Berry inbounded the ball to Sterling Manley who had to take a wild, off-balanced shot that Berry caught and put up in one motion.

He hit the rim with the ball as he was fouled by Gibbs.

With seven seconds left, Berry calmly hit two free throws for the lead, which held up.

Maye led the Heels with 18 points, followed by Berry who scored 15. Pinson, who headlined a key 11-2 run midway through the second half with seven of those points, finished the game with 13 points.

Carolina improves to 14-4 overall and 3-2 in the ACC while Notre Dame falls to 13-5 and 3-2 in the conference.

Box Score

Defense was key to Carolina's victory. Garrison Brooks gets a rebound here. (UNC Sports Information Photo)

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