PHILADELPHIA – For a second-straight year the chance was there to snap a streak that’s lasted 38.
Once again, it seemed a difficult task for Mike Brey.
Last year his Notre Dame team reached the Elite Eight only to run into undefeated Kentucky. A strong effort to the Irish close enough to try a game-winning three pointer from the corner, but the Final Four drought was extended another year when Jerian Grant’s corner shot was off the mark.
Against greater odds a year later the Irish found themselves back in the Regional Final with a chance to advance to the National Semifinal for the first time since 1978. Yet again, Brey had his hands full.
Looking every bit the No. 1 seed on Friday, North Carolina decimated Indiana with 51 percent shooting and upped that to 55 behind the arc in a 15-point victory. Already an underdog, the Tar Heels presented another difficult challenge for the Irish in getting past their Final Four roadblock.
Once again, it was too big for Notre Dame to end their drought.
Though competitive for most of the evening the Tar Heels were a step ahead for most of the second half as they beat the Irish 88-74 to advance to next weekend’s Final Four at NRG Stadium in Houston.
Once again the season ends short of the ultimate goal but it ends an impressive and thrilling run through the NCAA Tournament. A sixth-seed in the East Region, Notre Dame scored a last-second win over Stephen F. Austin and then a last-minute win over Wisconsin to get to the Elite Eight once again.
Brey had his team competitive from the start against the Tar Heels, keeping them from getting off to the fast start that propelled them to victory against the Hoosiers. Notre Dame matched the hot shooting of North Carolina in the first 20 minutes (64 percent) by hitting 58 percent of their shots from the field with Demetrius Jackson leading the way with 13 points and V.J. Beachum going for 11.
It was his three-pointer midway through the first half that allowed the Irish to build a four-point lead. Brice Johnson led a rally for North Carolina for the rest of the half and allowed the Tar Heels to to take a 43-38 lead at the break.
It appeared North Carolina would pull away early in the second half when they started off quickly. Kennedy Meeks’ hoop just under five minutes in put Carolina. Yet the Irish charged back into the game with a 12-0 run and a Bonzie Colston jumper with 13:04 left gave Notre Dame a one-point lead.
Back came the Tar Heels who went on a 12-0 run of their own to grab the advantage but this time the Irish had no rally in them.