CHAPEL HILL, North Carolina — North Carolina needed a jolt of energy. Freshman Theo Pinson answered with some of his best minutes of the season.
Pinson matched his season high with seven points and set a season high with eight rebounds — all after halftime — in No. 18 North Carolina's 71-70 loss to No. 13 Notre Dame on Monday night.
"Bottom line just hit shots and try to contribute as much as you can and defend," Pinson said. "That was the big emphasis for today: guarding the ball, and I tried to do that to the best of my ability."
The Tar Heels have talked about Pinson's potential to be a top-notch perimeter defender. He also produced some needed aggressiveness for the Tar Heels, helping them erase an 11-point deficit and take a lead before falling on a late putback.
Pinson entered the game with 12:50 left and North Carolina trailing 57-46, then had a big dunk off a miss shot from J.P. Tokoto as well as a 3-pointer and a pullup jumper. Coach Roy Williams left him on the court until the final seconds.
Assistant coach Hubert Davis "told us it takes one guy to step up and make plays to get the whole team going," junior Marcus Paige said. "He was that guy and responded with his energy."
Zach Auguste scored the go-ahead basket off an offensive rebound with 1:07 left for the Fighting Irish (15-1, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), who survived two shots by preseason all-American Marcus Paige in the final seconds — the last a desperate 3-point heave that wasn't close as the horn sounded.
Now Notre Dame is 3-0 in league play for the first time — Big East or ACC — and off to its best start in 15 seasons under Mike Brey.
Auguste finished with 18 points while Pat Connaughton had 16 for the Irish, who shot 46 percent and overcame their own cold shooting down the stretch to hang on.
Paige finished with 15 points for the Tar Heels (11-4, 1-1), who shot 37 percent and couldn't quite complete the comeback on a night when they struggled to get consistent defensive stops until the final 10 minutes. North Carolina missed 13 of 14 shots in the final 7-plus minutes to fall a basket short.
Notre Dame: Jerian Grant finished with eight points on 1-for-8 shooting with eight assists before fouling out with 2:07 left. ... Notre Dame made 10 of 23 3-pointers. ... The Irish have won 11 straight and matched last year's win total.
UNC: For the second straight day, the school held a moment of silence for ESPN sportscaster Stuart Scott, an alumnus who died Sunday after a lengthy fight against cancer. UNC honored Scott during Sunday's women's game against rival North Carolina State. ... Students on the baseline risers also held up signs reading "Stu" during the pregame announcement and UNC wore patches saying the same on their jerseys. ... Meeks and Tokoto each scored 12 points.
Brey, Connaughton and Auguste all praised the team's defense, which held UNC to 37 percent shooting.
"When we would have disappointing offensive possessions maybe last year, we'd hang our head and couldn't guard," Brey said. "This group is more mentally tough where they'll go back and still defend and rebound."
THE WINNING BASKET
Connaughton missed the shot for the late lead, but Auguste was there to finish.
"I carved out some space, I saw the shot go up," Auguste said, "and I just took off for it, came down and went up strong."
Notre Dame hosts No. 3 Virginia on Saturday.
UNC hosts No. 5 Louisville on Saturday.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap
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