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Notre Dame Basketball

WBB | Notre Dame Opens ACC Tournament Play Against North Carolina

March 7, 2019

The two teams that handed fourth-ranked Notre Dame its two regular-season conference losses are on ND’s side of the bracket in the ACC tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina. First up Friday afternoon will be the North Carolina Tar Heels — an upset winner at home against then #1 Notre Dame in late January.  If ND beats North Carolina, the Irish may face the other team to beat them in the regular season — the Miami Hurricanes.  Miami will have to beat Syracuse Friday to have a second crack at taking down ND.

UNC came from behind to beat Georgia Tech on Thursday afternoon by a score of 80 to 73 to advance to Friday’s rematch with the Irish.  Both North Carolina and Georgia Tech were short-handed.  The Heels were playing without two starters — center, Janelle Bailey, who was sitting out a one-game suspension following an on-court outburst in UNC’s last regular season game, and guard, Stephanie Watts, who was out with a knee injury.  Bailey is expected to be back for the game against ND.  Watts status is less certain.

Georgia Tech came into the tournament on a three-game losing streak with the last two after head coach, MaChelle Joseph, was suspended by the university. Two starters, Francesca Pan and Kierra Fletcher, left the team after Joseph was forced out. 

Georgia Tech’s leading scorer, Elizabeth Balogun, spent much of the game on the bench with foul trouble.  Named the ACC’s top freshman earlier this week, Balogun only managed 9 points.  

North Carolina trailed by five at halftime, but battled back to tie the game at the end of three before securing the win in the final quarter.  UNC received significant contributions from two bench players, Leah Church and Jocelyn Jones. Both were averaging less than 4 points a game in ACC play. 

Church, a 5’8” sophomore guard, started in place of Watts and led the Tar Heels in scoring with 20 points.  She hit a three-pointer from the corner with 39 seconds left to extend the UNC lead to seven. She hit six of eight three-pointers in the game.  Paris Kea added 19 points to go with 9 assists.  Shayla Bennett added 18. Jones, a 6’0” red-shirt sophomore, added 14 points and snagged 9 rebounds including 5 on the offensive end. 

Church also hit a critical three-pointer late in the game when North Carolina beat the Irish, 78-73, in late January.  Jones did not score in just two minutes of playing time against ND.

In January’s upset of Notre Dame, UNC’s top three scorers tallied 65 of the Heels’ points — with senior guard Kea leading the way.  Kea scored 30 points with 23 coming in the second half.  She made 8 of 11 shots after the halftime break including 4-6 from three.  Kea also had a season-high 10 assists in the game.

Watts added 19 points (5-10 from three) and Bailey scored 16 points to go with a team-high eight rebounds.

After ND took a two point halftime lead, UNC exploded for 28 points in the third quarter and led by nine heading into the fourth.  The Irish battled back to take a two point lead with 4 1/2 minutes remaining.  After UNC scored six straight to build a four-point lead, ND tied the game at 71 with 1:48 left.  Church, the leading scorer in Thursday’s win against Georgia Tech, hit a three on UNC’s next possession. Her only basket of the game gave the Heels a three point lead that they extended with a final basket and two free throws from Kea.

For the game, North Carolina shot 44.6% from the field and hit 11-27 from three (40.7%).   For the season, UNC has made 42% from the field and 32.8% from three.  They average 8.1 made threes per game.  

Notre Dame was without Jackie Young in the first game.  She sprained an ankle on the final play of practice before the team left to Chapel Hill.  Her presence was especially missed on the defensive end as the Irish had no answers for Kea that night.

ND was very careless with the ball and had 20 turnovers.  The last came with 18 seconds left and the Irish trailing by just three.

Marina Mabrey scored 20 to lead the Irish.  She made 4 of 6 from three.  Jess Shepard and Brianna Turner added 19 points each.  Arike Ogunbowale was limited to 13 points on 5-21 from the field including 1-7 from three.

After the win over the Irish, UNC won its next two games — by 1 over Georgia Tech and by 13 at NC State.  The Heels then lost four of the remaining seven regular season games including two games against arch-rival Duke, a rematch with NC State, and to Pitt, which finished 2-14 in ACC play.  UNC ended the regular season with an 8-8 record.

Notre Dame bounced back with two convincing wins over Clemson and Georgia Tech before suffering a second ACC set back at Miami.  Since that game, the Irish have reeled off six straight in dominating fashion to capture a tie for the regular season ACC title and the top seed in this week’s conference tournament.

In Friday’s rematch, UNC will get a boost from the return of the 6’4” Bailey to the starting line-up along with the potential for continued solid play off the bench to complement leading scorer and Irish killer, Paris Kea. The Tar Heels will be playing their second game in 24 hours.  Both Kea and Bennett played 40 minutes against Georgia Tech and Church played 37.

The game will tip-off at 2 pm ET on Friday.  It will be available on stations affiliated with RSN. It will also be streamed on the ESPN app and Fox Sports Go.

If the Irish beat North Carolina, they’ll play the winner of Friday’s first game between Syracuse and Miami.  That game is scheduled to be played at noon Saturday and will be televised on ESPNU.

In-game updates will be posted below.

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