UNC races to another Final Four with dismantling of Notre Dame

Brice Johnson had 25 points and 12 rebounds to lead North Carolina to an 88-74 victory over Notre Dame on Sunday night, leaving the Tar Heels as the only No. 1 seed in the Final Four (Chris Szagola/AP)

PHILADELPHIA — Roy Williams will take his postgame injuries as long as he and the North Carolina Tar Heels are headed to the Final Four.

The Hall of Fame coach bit his tongue and cut a finger during the net-cutting ceremonies after the Tar Heels beat Notre Dame 88-74 on Sunday night, leaving them as the only No. 1 seed in the Final Four.

"I was screaming. I started to take a step back and I felt like the ladder moved and I grabbed. When I grabbed I grabbed the end of the scissors and it started bleeding," he said.

That’s OK since his team will head to Houston.

"Never in my life have I wanted something for someone else as I wanted to get these guys to Houston," he said.

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.

"He should be used to cutting nets," senior point guard Marcus Paige said of Williams. "He said 'I'll bleed for you guys if you keep playing the way we're playing.' We'll get him patched up."

Sunday's halves were very different. In the first, the teams went shot for shot with both teams shooting over 58 per cent 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.

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," 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), which has made the Final Four once, in 1978.

"I thought we put ourselves in position," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "We took that one-point lead and they answered it like men. ... I thought the way they answered that run was championship level."

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. During that run, Johnson was charged with a technical foul for throwing the ball high in the air after he was called for a foul. He apologized after the game.

"That was dumb on my part," Johnson said. "But my teammates did a very good job of playing. They stepped up during a time of need."

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 per cent 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 per cent. North Carolina finished 61.5 per cent for the game (32 for 52).

Notre Dame shot 55.1 per cent (27 for 49).

Williams went to a 1-3-1 zone for a while trying to slow down the Fighting Irish from 3-point range. They 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 per cent) and 4 from 6 on 3s, while the Fighting Irish were 14 for 24 from the field (58.3 per cent).

NO. 1s: This will be the fourth time since 2012 there will only one No. 1 seed in the Final Four.

SAME LEAGUE: This is the fourth straight season there will be two teams from the same conference in the Final Four. The North Carolina-Syracuse game will be the first intraconference matchup at the Final Four since Duke beat Maryland in 2001 semifinals.

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 per cent 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.