SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP)Notre Dame coach Mike Brey wasn’t surprised sophomore Nate Laszewski hit another critical shot for the Fighting Irish.
Laszewski swished a 3-pointer from the left wing with 1.8 seconds remaining for the final count as the Irish stormed back from a 15-point second-half deficit for a 77-76 victory over beleaguered North Carolina on Monday night.
“As soon as he caught it, there was no hesitation,” Brey said of his sophomore forward. “I think his percentage is better on those than the 38 and a half other minutes of a game.”
Laszewski had also drained a 3-pointer that forced overtime in Notre Dame’s 64-62 win over Toledo earlier this season, but this one was bigger as the Irish try to make a late scramble toward postseason.
“It’s an awesome feeling,” said Laszewski, whose shot was preceded by Rex Pflueger’s offensive rebound and kick-out pass. “I just shot it with confidence. The way I shot it, I thought it was good.”
Prentiss Hubb scored 15 of his 20 points in the second half and dealt eight assists for the Irish (16-10, 7-8 Atlantic Coast Conference), who trailed 64-49 with 8:37 remaining.
T.J. Gibbs added 11 of his 14 points after the break, John Mooney picked up his nation-leading 21st double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, and Laszewski scored 11 points for ND.
Freshman Cole Anthony scored 23 points and dished six assists for the Tar Heels (10-16, 3-12), who lost their season-high sixth straight game. Garrison Brooks added 22 points and seven rebounds.
“I thought we looked flat-out exhausted, and maybe we probably were,” Brey said of how his own team appeared at about nine minutes to go, “(but) we found a little something to finish, and I thought our defense was fabulous the last six, seven minutes, and then we had a number of different guys that wanted to take big shots.”
The Irish trailed 73-64 inside of five minutes left before Gibbs converted a 3-pointer to ignite a 7-0 run.
Anthony’s 3-pointer for the Heels pushed the visitors’ lead to 76-71 at 1:40 remaining, but Notre Dame scored the final six points, with the game-winner coming after Anthony air-balled a 3-point try at 21 ticks left.
“(Our) last possession, I don’t like that we did not attack the rim,” Carolina coach Roy Williams said, “but again, the whole thing is they were tougher, they made plays down the stretch, and I think you really just have to congratulate those guys for making those plays.”
Five of the Heels’ six losses during their skid have come by a combined 12 points.
North Carolina: The ACC cellar-dwelling Tar Heels continued to careen toward potentially their first losing record since 2001-02, when they were 8-20 during the middle season of ex-ND coach Matt Doherty’s three-year tenure. With five regular-season games left, they’ll have to win all of those and win at least twice in the ACC Tourney to avoid a sub-.500 fate.
Notre Dame: The Irish are in a bona fide position to win at least four of their remaining five regular-season games, which would give them a 20-victory season heading into the ACC Tourney and a fighting shot at an NCAA Tournament bid. Four of those five will be against teams that are below .500 in the league and the fifth is a home contest against No. 8 Florida State.
Pflueger scored just three points, but as the senior has repeatedly done during his Irish career, found other ways to make a pivotal impact.
This time, besides that offensive board and kick-out pass for the game-winner, Pflueger scrapped his way to three steals over the final seven minutes, each of those leading to ND points. He also had six rebounds and five assists.
“Was Pflueger unbelievable down the stretch defensively with the steals?” Brey asked rhetorically. “And there he is getting his hands on the offensive rebound and making the play. It’s amazing. Nate made big shots, don’t get me wrong, (but) it’s amazing the winning plays Rex Pflueger makes.”
Count Williams impressed from the other bench.
“Rex just pushed (Christian Keeling) right out of the way,” Williams said of Pflueger’s decisive rebound in traffic, “and I’m not saying that in a negative manner. He wanted the ball a lot more. Had a big-time rebound for them and threw it out, and they made a huge shot.”
Williams mixed in some colorful language, then apologized for it, while addressing his team’s struggles of late.
“You got two choices. You can compete your butt off, or you can get up in the fetal position, curl up and start crying,” Williams said. “I’m not gonna frickin’ do that. We’re gonna (expletive) – excuse me, I apologize to everybody, everybody, everybody – we’re gonna frickin’ compete and that’s what we want to do. We play Saturday. You can feel sorry for yourself, (but) when you feel sorry for yourself, you’re gonna do that the rest of your frickin’ life, and I apologize. I usually don’t … I don’t know what I’m doing right now (with the) cursing, but you can feel sorry for yourself, and you can give in, or you can frickin’ compete.”
North Carolina: The Heels visit No. 11 Louisville on Saturday in the lone regular-season meeting between the teams.
Notre Dame: After playing four games in nine days, the Irish are now off until hosting Miami Sunday.
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