Notre Dame can't find one last run to beat North Carolina
PHILADELPHIA (AP) Notre Dame finally ran out of comebacks.
The Fighting Irish, who had rallied in all three of their NCAA Tournament wins, couldn't come up one with one more and they lost 88-74 to North Carolina in the East Regional final Sunday night.
Notre Dame finished one win shy of its second Final Four, the other coming in 1978.
''It was a fabulous run for us,'' Fighting Irish coach Mike Brey said.
It was one final run that did Notre Dame in.
The Fighting Irish used a 12-0 run to take a 52-51 lead with 13 minutes to play. North Carolina answered with a 12-0 run of their own and the Tar Heels were in control from there.
''I thought the way they answered that run was championship level,'' Brey said. ''We've hit people with runs like that and then it's been game situations down the stretch.''
Brice Johnson had 25 points and 12 rebounds as the Tar Heels reached the Final Four for a record 19th time and the first since 2009, when they won the last of their five national championships.
North Carolina (32-6) will face Syracuse, the 10th seed from the Midwest Regional, in another all-Atlantic Coast Conference matchup in the Final Four on Saturday. The Orange beat top-seeded Virginia 68-62.
Sunday's halves were very different. In the first, the teams went shot for shot with both teams shooting over 58 percent and neither leading by more than six points. The second half was run for run and the Tar Heels, taking control of the boards, had the last and biggest one to seize control over the final 10 minutes.
It was Johnson's school-record 23rd double-double of the season.
''It took us four years to do this, but we're finally there,'' Johnson said of the Final Four.
Marcus Paige added 13 points and Joel Berry II had 11 points and eight assists for North Carolina, which has won its four tournament games by an average of 15.4 points. The Tar Heels finished with a 32-15 rebound advantage. They had more offensive rebounds than Notre Dame had on the defensive end.
''We got going a little bit and all of a sudden they made a huge run,'' North Carolina coach Roy Williams said of the second half. ''(In a timeout) Marcus said, `It's a game of runs. They made runs. We're going to make our run.'''
Demetrius Jackson had 26 points and V.J. Beachem had 18 for sixth-seeded Notre Dame (24-12).
''I thought we put ourselves in position,'' Brey said. ''We took that one-point lead and they answered it like men.''
The teams split their games before the tournament, with the Tar Heels winning by 31 in the conference tournament two weeks ago.
The second half Sunday seemed like it was going be similar with North Carolina making a big run.
This time, a 12-0 run gave the Tar Heels a 63-52 lead with 9:19 to play. North Carolina showed its depth during the run with the final eight points coming from reserves Isaiah Hicks and Theo Pinson.
North Carolina opened the second half with an 8-2 run and Kennedy Meeks scoring all the Tar Heels' points down low. Notre Dame answered with 12 straight points.
After an incredible first half in which both teams played about as well as they could offensively, North Carolina led 43-38.
Both teams shot better than 58 percent from the field and from 3-point range. In one stretch, North Carolina went 4 minutes without missing. It was the third half this tournament that North Carolina shot better than 60 percent. The Fighting Irish made five of their first eight from beyond the arc and finished 6 for 10 for the half and 9 for 18 for the game.
North Carolina was 16 for 25 from the field (64 percent) and 4 from 6 on 3s, while the Fighting Irish were 14 for 24 from the field (58.3 percent).
''We've been in a bunch of different positions this year, so we felt good, felt confident still,'' Jackson said. ''We just wanted to give ourselves a chance to win. And I'm really proud of the effort our team gave.''
WOUNDED WARRIOR: Brey wore a boot on his right leg. He injured his calf in the regional semifinal win over Wisconsin.
Notre Dame: Beachem entered the game shooting 52.9 percent from 3-point range in the tournament (9 of 17). He was 3 for 5 Sunday. ... The Fighting Irish won six games in the last two NCAA Tournaments, their most ever in a two-year span. ... Notre Dame advanced with wins over Michigan, Stephen F. Austin and Wisconsin.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels advanced with wins over Florida Gulf Coast, Providence and Indiana. ... North Carolina is 4-0 against Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament. ... This was the second time North Carolina faced an ACC opponent in the NCAA Tournament. In 1981, in Philadelphia, the Tar Heels beat Virginia in the national semifinals.
Notre Dame: Season over.
North Carolina: Syracuse in the Final Four on Saturday.