Irish’s buzzer-beater earns rematch with Heels

By R.L. Bynum

It looked like Notre Dame’s season would end for much of Tuesday’s first-round game in the ACC Tournament.

But the No. 11-seed Irish stormed back with a 17–2 run and Charlotte native Trey Wertz hit a 30-foot buzzer-beating 3-pointer to knock off No. 14 Wake Forest 80–77 at the Greensboro Coliseum to earn a 9 p.m. Wednesday second-round matchup with North Carolina. 

The Tar Heels beat Notre Dame 66–65 in Chapel Hill on Jan. 2.

It was a dream scenario Tuesday for Wertz.

“I’ve grown up watching them my whole life,” Wertz, the son of Charlotte Observer high schools writer Langston Wertz Jr., said of the ACC tournament. “I’ve been to the Greensboro Coliseum numerous times, not only to watch the ACC tournament but other games, as well. So it was actually my first time playing on the court. It’s definitely surreal. It’s a dream come true. As a little kid just kind of dreaming of playing in the ACC, and to be able to do that, I couldn’t really ask for anything better right now.”

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey gave Wertz his first career start and the junior rewarded him with 16 points and the game-winning bucket.

“When he rose up to take it, I’m going, this could be such an unbelievable story,” Brey said. “Charlotte kid, he’s never played in the building. He’s watched the ACC tournament in Greensboro and Charlotte growing up his whole life, and his first game he drills one in his home state. I mean it’s just a great story.”

Juwan Durham also scored 16 for the Irish with Prentiss Hubb and Cormac Ryan adding 14 each.

Notre Dame (11–14) won despite a largely Wake Forest crowd and will deal with the same dynamic on Wednesday against Carolina.

“The Wake fans really helped their team believe, especially early, and they were a factor in the game when we haven’t played them that much,” Brey said. “Now, tomorrow night we know we’ll have it on steroids with light blue up in those stands.”

Wake Forest junior guard Daivien Williamson led the Deacons (6–15) with 21 points on 8-for-11 shooting from the floor, and teammate Isaiah Mucius scored 20.

Each team collected 12 3-pointers. The combined 24 3-pointers was one shy of the ACC tournament single-game record of 25 (Clemson vs. Duke in the 2000 first round; Wake Forest vs. Georgia Tech in double overtime in the 2007 first round).

Ryan said that the Irish can’t fall behind 16 points against UNC and expect to rally.

“Absolutely. I think we have to start the game better,” he said. “We’re capable of doing that. We know how good of a team we can be offensively and defensively, and we’ve got to put a full 40 minutes together, and that’s the thing we’ve shown time and time again this year is we can do it, and yeah, we just get our legs under us, get rest, get ready and come out hungry.”

The No. 8-seed Tar Heels (16–9) overcame 15 turnovers and 34.8% shooting to beat the Irish in the only regular-season meeting behind a season-high 25 points from freshman Day’Ron Sharpe, with Kerwin Walton adding 12 points and four 3-pointers. (See box score below.)

Nate Laszewski had 25 points and seven 3-pointers against UNC and Hubb added 14 points. The Irish had 11 3-pointers in the game. 

It’s the third ACC Tournament game against Notre Dame after the Irish beat UNC 90–82 in the 2015 championship game in Greensboro and the Tar Heels rolled to a 78–47 semifinal win in 2016 in Washington.

No. 11 Notre Dame 80, No. 14 W. Forest 77

Box from UNC’s Jan. 2 win over Notre Dame

ACC tournament bracket

ACC pool photo by Sara Davis

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