Luke DeCock

Notre Dame fans hail ‘3-point Jesus’ after win over UNC Tar Heels

Notre Dame guard Demetrius Jackson  lets out a shout after a first-half dunk against the Tar Heels. The Fighting Irish beat North Carolina 90-82 Saturday night to win the ACC Championship.
Notre Dame guard Demetrius Jackson lets out a shout after a first-half dunk against the Tar Heels. The Fighting Irish beat North Carolina 90-82 Saturday night to win the ACC Championship. cliddy@newsobserver.com

North Carolina is a basketball school that has tried, at times, to be a football school. Notre Dame is a football school that is, at least at this moment, suddenly a basketball school.

Back in South Bend, they’re going to have to rename the mural “3-Point Jesus.”

Until Saturday, the proudest moment in Notre Dame basketball history was ruining someone else’s proudest moment: Ending UCLA’s 88-game winning streak in 1974. Forty-one years later, the Irish finally topped that, at North Carolina’s expense.

Notre Dame hit 10 of them Saturday to put away the Tar Heels in the second half and claim the ACC Championship with a 90-82 win, knocking off both Duke and North Carolina in the process.

The Tar Heels, trying to redeem a season that never quite met expectations, were trying to become the first ACC team to win four games in four days. Three before had tried. Now all four have failed. It might just have made the difference, too, because just when North Carolina appeared to take control of the game, it all fell apart.

The Tar Heels went on a 9-0 run out of halftime that erased a halftime deficit and energized a rowdy crowd, later running their lead to as many as nine. But Notre Dame was here because the Irish, if nothing else, will put four 3-point shooters on the floor and let them bomb away.

Notre Dame is the epitome of modern college basketball in that sense. The Irish start a 6-foot-5 guard at power forward, they have the fifth least-efficient defense in the ACC and they play at a quick pace that is, to say the least, not trendy these days.

But they can shoot. Can they ever shoot. And Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton, Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia shot their way all the way to an ACC title, going on a 24-2 run midway through the second half that left the Tar Heels bereft of answers.

While North Carolina was undertaking the four-games-four-days quest, Notre Dame faced a task of perhaps greater difficulty. To win the ACC title, it had to beat both of North Carolina’s bluest bloods in Greensboro.

“I guess it’s only fitting that to get it, you have to go through Duke and North Carolina down here on their turf,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said.

There’s been a lot of that lately. Four years in a row, a team from outside North Carolina has claimed the championship over a team from the state – the past three on this very floor – and football schools like Florida State, Miami and now Notre Dame have put their stamp on a conference known for basketball.

There were a few Notre Dame fans in the building, a few Virginia fans, a few neutrals, but this was a North Carolina home game. Or better, even: Fans shut out of the Smith Center on a regular basis could buy up Friday night’s discards and get in the doors and be rowdy.

That’s what the ACC Tournament leaves behind as it leaves Greensboro, where for better or worse, the atmosphere is unique. Next year’s incoming freshman, unless the redshirt, will never play a tournament game on this floor. They’ll play instead in Washington and Brooklyn and Charlotte.

The tournament is scheduled to return in 2020, but there’s no guarantee. The rota has changed on the fly before, and who can honestly say what college athletics will look like in five years, let alone the ACC? By the time it comes back, Marcus Paige might be coaching the Tar Heels instead of playing for them.

Notre Dame could never make it past Friday in the Big East. Notre Dame is still an independent in football, but it only needed two seasons in the ACC to claim a basketball championship.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947

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