UNC bounces back with gritty win over Notre Dame

North Carolina's Nassir Little dunks during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Notre Dame in Chapel Hill, N.C., Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. North Carolina won 75-69. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

After suffering the worst home loss in 16 years, the Tar Heels bounced back with a win over Notre Dame, 75-69, on Tuesday night.

Following a 21-point loss to Louisville on Saturday, coach Roy Williams criticized his team’s toughness saying that sometimes, in ACC play, teams need to win ugly. UNC responded in another grueling conference game.

“I got my wish,” Williams said. “I wanted to win one ugly. We did that.”

The Tar Heels led for most of the first half, pulling ahead by as many as eight points. A five and a half minute scoring drought allowed the Irish to carve into the lead, however, and Notre Dame tied the score just before halftime, setting the stage for a buzzer-beating three-pointer by freshman Nate Laszewski to send the Irish into the locker room with a three point lead.

“The first half we played without a brain,” Williams snarked. “It was not fun at halftime. It was not fun for me and it was not fun for them.”

Notre Dame opened the second half with a three to double the lead, setting the stage for UNC to grit out a comeback win.

“Even though we didn’t play well, I feel like we battled and fought and were able to pull out a win,” Luke Maye said. The senior had a double-double with points and 10 rebounds.

UNC was sparked by its bench play. Junior Brandon Robinson, who had been scoreless in 40 of his previous 86 career games, knocked down a career-high three three-pointers in four attempts, for nine points.

“I was just open, and my teammates did a good job of getting me open and giving me the ball,” Robinson said. “I was wide open so I knocked it in. It is a big part of my game, and it has improved a lot along with defense. Just knowing the difference between a good shot and a bad shot … understanding that was a big part of my game and development here.”

Freshman Nassir Little, who has struggled in conference play, had a breakthrough performance. After going 0-for-1 in just seven minutes in the first half, Little found his footing after halftime. A driving baseline dunk opened his scoring and gave him confidence. He added a tip in and another putback, finishing with 11 points and six rebounds, nearly matching his scoring total from his first three ACC games.

“He took the ball to the basket,” Williams said. “He got three good passes. Luke [Maye] gave him a pass on the way up and he got a dunk. On a good drive he got another good pass. Two of them were drives to the basket where he is effective doing that. His shot hasn’t been going in for him and he took it to the basket and made good plays. I think he was probably the key to the game.”

Little credited his coach’s patience for his strong performance.

“He left me in the game, got to get that rhythm,” Little said. “Coming off the bench, you got to find a way to get yourself involved in the game. Initially I was focused on trying to get rebounds, play defense, things like that. As I got I got in a groove second half, I started to feel it, and it turned into a huge game.”

Fellow freshman Coby White added a team-high 17 points to go with five rebounds as the Heels posted a much-needed win.

“We had to bounce back,” Robinson said. “Coach always says his great teams respond after losing, so that is what we had to do tonight. I think we did a great job of doing that, even if it was an ugly win.”