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Notre Dame Basketball

Brought to heel: Notre Dame falters in final seconds

January 2, 2021

Notre Dame led for more than 27 minutes.

It led by as many as seven points and never trailed by more than three.

Nonetheless, it's a refrain as familiar as Auld Lang Syne at the new year.

Notre Dame men's basketball loses a close game. Again.

This time, it was 66-65 Saturday at North Carolina after the Tar Heels got a runner off the glass from Leaky Black inside the final 10 seconds and Notre Dame's waning-moments jumper from Juwan Durham bounded just off the rim.

“Well that's a painful one, obviously,” ND coach Mike Brey said. “I'm proud of us. We battled like heck against a physical front-line. Offensive rebounds pretty much beat us in the end. I'm proud of our group. Disappointed for us. I'm glad we were able to play a game today. I hope we get to play Wednesday.

“But yeah, 21 offensive rebounds hurts.”

The Fighting Irish (3-6, 0-3 ACC) had been bidding to win at both Kentucky and North Carolina in less than a month, and while this game wasn't ever quite controlled the way Notre Dame did in the tilt against Kentucky, it still was a contest the Irish could easily have won.

Instead, UNC (6-4, 1-2) outrebounded the Irish, 48-27, and corralled the 21 offensive boards that Brey noted. That led to an 18-5 bulge in second-chance scoring for the Heels and effectively sealed the Irish's ongoing winless start in ACC play. They had been originally scheduled to play Saturday at Pittsburgh, but the Panthers had to cancel that game due to a positive COVID-19 test. When the Heels faced a similar situation, Brey and UNC coach Roy Smith worked out a last-minute Irish trip to Chapel Hill, N.C.

Notre Dame got a Herculean 25-point, nine-rebound effort from junior forward Nate Laszewski, as Laszewski drilled seven of 11 3-point shots.

Prentiss Hubb added 14 and Juwan Durham eight. It also was Durham who blocked a UNC shot-attempt inside the final minute and Durham who fed Nik Djogo as Djogo knifed through the lane for a 63-62 Irish lead.

“I think Juwan and Nate and Dane (Goodwin) and Nick, I think they can rebound better than that,” Brey said. “And I know they feel that way. Having said all that, I thought we tried to make fearless plays.We kept trying and kept digging.

“Nate Laszewski continues to do stuff, it's kind of blowing my mind what he's doing. I feel for us, we kind of deserved this one. We did enough to get this one.”

But Durham missed each of his three free-throw attempts, and Notre Dame hit on just two of six charity tosses as a team. Carolina converted 10 of its 14 free throws; the Irish actually had more made baskets (26 to 24) and 3s (11 to 8) in the game but also were plagued by 10 turnovers that led to 14 Tar Heels points.

“We have another opportunity on Wednesday, so we've got to get ready for that,” Laszewski said. “This early in the season right now, we have a lot of opportunities. We can't hang our heads right now.

“The biggest thing is we're concerned about us. Doesn't matter who we're playing, Pitt or North Carolina. Just focus on what we can control and not worry about what's going on on the outside.”

Day'Ron Sharpe led the Heels with 25 points and Kerwin Walton added a dozen, all via 3-pointers. The trio of Sharpe, Armando Bacot and Garrison Brooks combined for 27 rebounds for the Heels – matching Notre Dame's entire team total.

Up next for the Irish is a visit Wednesday night inside Purcell Pavillion from Georgia Tech.

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