PHILADELPHIA — Brice Johnson had 25 points and 12 rebounds to lead North Carolina to an 88-74 victory over Notre Dame on Sunday night, leaving the Tar Heels as the only No. 1 seed in the Final Four.
The Tar Heels reached the Final Four for a record 19th time and the first since 2009, when they won the last of their five national championships.
North Carolina (32-6) will face Syracuse, the 10th seed from the Midwest Regional, in another all-Atlantic Coast Conference matchup in the Final Four on Saturday in Houston. The Orange beat top-seeded Virginia 68-62.
The UNC-Syracuse winner will take on the Oklahoma-Villanova victor on April 4 in Houston.
The game was two different halves. In the first, the teams went shot for shot with both teams shooting over 58 percent and neither leading by more than six points.
The second half was run for run and the Tar Heels, by taking control of the boards, had the last and biggest one to take control over the final 10 minutes.
Marcus Paige added 13 points and Joel Berry II had 11 points and eight assists for North Carolina, which has won its four tournament games by an average of 15.4 points. The Tar Heels finished with a 32-15 rebound advantage, including 13-5 on the offensive end.
Demetrius Jackson had 26 points and V.J. Beacham had 18 for sixth-seeded Notre Dame (24-12).
The teams split their games in the regular season. Notre Dame won 80-76 at home and the Tar Heels prevailed 78-47 in the ACC Tournament semifinals just two weeks ago. Notre Dame has made just one Final Four in 1978.
The second half Sunday seemed like it was going be like the ACC Tournament game in which the Tar Heels used a 24-0 run to take control.
This time, a 12-0 run that gave the Tar Heels a 63-52 lead with 9:19 to play. North Carolina showed its depth in the run with the final eight points coming from reserves Isaiah Hicks and Theo Pinson.
North Carolina opened the second half with an 8-2 run and Kennedy Meeks scoring all the Tar Heels’ points down low. Notre Dame answered with 12 straight points. During that run, Johnson was charged with a technical foul for throwing the ball high in the air after he was called for a foul.
But that’s when the Tar Heels, with Johnson on the bench, took off.
After an incredible first half in which both teams played about as well as they could offensively, North Carolina led 43-38.
Both teams shot better than 58 percent from the field and from 3-point range. In one stretch, North Carolina went 4 minutes without missing. The Tar Heels scored on seven consecutive possessions, including 3s from Justin Jackson and Berry II, but at the end of the stretch they only had a five-point lead, 39-34.
It was the third half this tournament that North Carolina shot better than 60 percent — the second half against Providence and the first half against Indiana. It was the eighth time the Tar Heels did it this season.
Tar Heels coach Roy Williams went to a 1-3-1 zone for a while trying to slow down the Fighting Irish from 3-point range. They made five of their first eight from beyond the arc and finished 6 for 10 for the half.
North Carolina was 16 for 25 from the field (64 percent) and 4 from 6 on 3s, while the Fighting Irish were 14 for 24 from the field (58.3 percent).
NO. 10 SYRACUSE 68, NO. 1 VIRGINIA 62: Malachi Richardson smiled as he ran up the court while making circles around his eyes with his hands. Houston was right there in front of him.
From the bubble all the way to the Final Four.
Richardson scored 21 of his 23 points in the second half, and Syracuse extended its improbable run with a victory over top-seeded Virginia on Sunday.
The Orange were among the last teams to get into the NCAA Tournament after a rough closing stretch, but slipped in as a 10 seed before storming to its first Final Four since 2013 and No. 6 overall. It comes at the end of a challenging season for coach Jim Boeheim, who was suspended for nine games as the result of an NCAA investigation.
“It was a whole team effort and these guys really deserve it,” Boeheim said. “We beat a great basketball team. I’ve never been prouder in all my 40 years as coach of a basketball team as I am of this team tonight.”
Syracuse (23-13), which trailed by 16 at the start of the second half, becomes the first 10 seed to make it to the Final Four and just the fourth double-digit seed to accomplish the feat. It’s the lowest seeded team to reach the national semifinals since No. 11 VCU in 2011, according to STATS.
Michael Gbinije and freshman Tyler Lydon each scored 11 points for the Orange, who will face North Carolina on Saturday in Houston in another all-ACC showdown. Tyler Roberson finished with 10 points and eight rebounds.
“We had a lot of doubters,” Lydon said. “A lot of people who believed we shouldn’t even be in this tournament. I’m sure there are still a lot of people who think that. But we know what we can do as a team and that’s all that matters.”
London Perrantes scored 15 of his 18 points in the first half for Virginia (29-8), which blew a 16-point lead in the second half. Malcolm Brogdon, the ACC player of the year, had 12 points on 2-of-14 shooting in the final game of his Cavaliers career.
“It was in our grasp, but credit goes to Syracuse for some of the plays they made,” coach Tony Bennett said. “I think some of our points off turnovers probably cost us. We didn’t convert on some things, had some errors, but played well enough in stretches.”
Syracuse trailed 54-39 before it ripped off 25 of the next 29 points, including 15 in a row. And Richardson led the way, often taking the ball right at Brogdon.
Richardson’s driving layup made it 59-58 Orange with 5:47 remaining for their first lead since early in the first half. After Perrantes missed a long 3, Richardson connected from deep and jogged up the court with a huge grin and Texas in his sights as the crowd roared.
“I just had to pick it up,” he said. “I wanted to help my teammates out as best I could.”
The confident freshman, who scored 21 points in Syracuse’s first-round win against Dayton, added another layup for his seventh straight point before Anthony Gill stopped Virginia’s drought with a basket inside.
The Cavaliers had a chance to tie in the final seconds after Gbinije went 1 for 2 at the line. But Devon Hall missed a 3-point attempt and Lydon and DaJuan Coleman combined for three free throws to close it out for the Orange.
“It was a great comeback, one of the best I’ve coached in, any team I’ve had, in terms of you’re playing, I think, a great team,” Boeheim said.
Syracuse also trailed in the regional semifinal against Gonzaga, erasing a nine-point deficit in the final 6 1/2 minutes.
Virginia, which beat Syracuse 73-65 on Jan. 24, shot 35.7 percent in the second half, seemingly worn by the Orange’s tenacious 2-3 zone. Gill and Mike Tobey finished with 10 points apiece.
“I think they were able to sink in a little bit and not let us get the ball in the middle as much because I don’t think we were being as aggressive outside of the zone as we should have been,” Brogdon said. “But yeah, I mean, you’ve got to give credit to them; they made plays.”