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No. 14 North Carolina overcomes sluggish second half to hold off Notre Dame

Mar 3, 2014, 9:20 PM EDT

marcus paige Getty Images

North Carolina looked like it would cruise to victory over Notre Dame on Monday at home in an ACC contest, but the Fighting Irish had other ideas as the second half began.

Despite leading 41-27 at halftime, No. 14 North Carolina needed a game-saving block from point guard Marcus Paige with under four seconds left to preserve a 63-61 win over Notre Dame. North Carolina needed a 7-0 run in the game’s final minutes to give them a five-point lead and held on to beat the Irish on the final possession after Paige missed two of his final three free throw attempts.

Monday’s contest gives North Carolina 12 straight wins in the ACC.

After it looked like Notre Dame would roll over after a mediocre first half, the Irish came out aggressive in the second half, as a 22-5 run gave Notre Dame a 49-44 lead. Notre Dame threw some different defensive looks at the Tar Heels, including a Diamond-and-1 and North Carolina’s offense struggled to adjust for much of the half.

On the defensive end, North Carolina was also worrisome — at times — as its transition defense had multiple breakdowns and the Tar Heel defense struggled on ball screen defense.

Still, North Carolina stepped up when the game was on the line and its 1-3-1 defense created some turnovers and got some stops as James Michael McAdoo (14 points), Brice Johnson (nine points) and Paige (seven points) made plays down the stretch.

North Carolina has to be concerned with its prolonged no-show on both ends of the floor in the second half, though. Notre Dame was depleted, playing without Garrick Sherman, and still gave the Tar Heels a great fight despite falling to 1-8 on the road in ACC play. Against a more talented team, a run like that could have cost North Carolina the game, but maybe this is a wake-up call in the midst of the 12-game winning streak.