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After eight ties and six lead changes in the first half, No. 1 North Carolina went to the locker room with a 43–38 lead over No. 6 Notre Dame in the East regional final in Philadelphia. The Irish opened the second half with their best basketball of the game, though, capping a 12–0 run with a 52–51 lead with 13 minutes left in the second half. But North Carolina responded with a 12–0 running of its own, and the Irish were never within 12 points in the final five minutes of the game. Junior guard Demetrius Jackson led all scorers with 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting, but it wasn’t enough to get the Irish over the top.
Brice Johnson finished the game with 25 points and 12 rebounds, his 23rd double double of the season and third of the NCAA tournament. All five Carolina starters scored in double figures for the second game in a row, and the Tar Heels defeated the Irish, 88–74.
Why it mattered
On Saturday afternoon, every No. 1 seed entered the Elite Eight feeling confident. Then that night No. 2 Villanova beat No. 1 overall seed Kansas in the South regional final and No. 2 Oklahoma defeated No. 1 Oregon in the West. And on Sunday, No. 10 Syracuse made a shocking second-half comeback to take down No. 1 Virginia in the East. In the course of fewer than 36 hours, UNC has become the last No. 1 alive in the NCAA tournament. And as a result, it will enter the Final Four in Houston as the prohibitive national-title favorites.
It’s Carolina’s first appearance in the Final Four since 2009, when the Tar Heels won the most recent of their five NCAA tournament championships. And it may be UNC’s best chance to win a title in the next few years, given the looming cloud of NCAA sanctions for academic misconduct across sports programs. But North Carolina’s path to a title looks favorable, starting with Syracuse, a team it has beaten twice this season, in the Final Four. This will be North Carolina coach Roy Williams’s eighth appearance in the national semifinals, and he has won two national championships—each with the Tar Heels.
The Tar Heels will face another ACC foe, Syracuse, at 8:49 p.m. ET on Saturday in the Final Four in Houston.
UNC defeated the Orange in both of the team’s meetings this season.