North Carolina 88, Notre Dame 74

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[March 28, 2016]  PHILADELPHIA -- North Carolina is in the Final Four for a record 19th time after beating Notre Dame 88-74 on Sunday evening in the NCAA East Regional Final at Wells Fargo Center.

The Tar Heels (32-6), the top seed in the East regional, advance to their first national semifinal since 2009. There, they will take on another Atlantic Coast Conference squad, surprise Final Four participant Syracuse, a No. 10 seed out of the Midwest regional.

The North Carolina frontcourt has been too deep and too skilled for every team the Tar Heels have come across during their tournament run, and they showed why again against a Fighting Irish squad that had won one of their two earlier meetings this season.

First it was senior big man Brice Johnson, who had a dominant first half en route to a team-high 25 points. He was one of five Tar Heels with 10 points or more.

To start the second half, junior Kennedy Meeks poured in eight straight points to help UNC move out to an 11-point advantage with 16 minutes left.

Then, after Notre Dame roared back with a dozen straight to regain the lead, it was a pair of reserves, sophomore Theo Pinson and junior Isaiah Hicks, who helped North Carolina responded with a 12-0 run of its own. The back-breaker was an alley-oop from the 6-6, 205-pound Pinson to the 6-9, 235-pound Hicks with 9:19 left that re-established that 11-point lead.

Notre Dame (24-12) got no closer than eight points the rest of the way.

The Tar Heels dominated the rebounding battle (32-15) and points in the paint (42-30), shooting 61.5 percent from the floor despite going 4 of 13 on 3-point attempts.

Along with Johnson and Meeks (10 points), senior guard Marcus Paige (13), sophomore Joel Berry II (11) and sophomore Justin Jackson (11) all reached double figures.

Johnson's 12 rebounds gave him his 23rd double-double of the season, a North Carolina record, while his 399 rebounds this season tie him with Tyler Hansbrough for the most in a North Carolina season.

Senior guard Demetrius Jackson led Notre Dame with 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting. Junior wing V.J. Beachem added 18 for the Fighting Irish.

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North Carolina led 43-38 after an exciting first half that saw both teams shoot better than 58 percent from the floor and 60 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.

Johnson had 15 points and eight boards over the opening 20 minutes, which included eight ties and six lead changes as both teams took turns burying shots.

The Fighting Irish were able to stay within striking distance of the Tar Heels despite starting center Zach Auguste picking up two early fouls and spending all but five minutes of the first half on the bench. That was largely thanks to Jackson and Beachem, who combined for 24 first-half points on 9-of-12 shooting.

NOTES: This was the 27th meeting in the programs' history, with North Carolina holding a 20-7 series edge over Notre Dame since the first contest in February 1958. The Fighting Irish had won three straight before the Tar Heels' victory in the ACC semifinals. ... Notre Dame's six NCAA Tournament victories over the past two years are the most in any two-year stretch in the program's history. The Fighting Irish were in the Elite Eight for the second year in a row and seventh time in program history. ... North Carolina reached the Elite Eight for the seventh time in 12 years under Roy Williams, though the Tar Heels hadn't been since 2012 before this year.

[ 2016 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

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