The North Carolina Tar Heels have now won 12 games in a row, Monday's win a 63-61 home win over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in which the Tar Heels had as good a half as they've had all season before briefly relapsing to the early season mediocrity that haunted them for seven losses in their first 18 games.
After North Carolina had weathered Notre Dame's comeback and held a two-point lead, the Fighting Irish still had a final shot to tie the game at the end of regulation. But point guard Marcus Paige, of all players, came up with his fifth block of the season as time was winding down to save the win.
North Carolina led by as many 15 points just before the end of the first half—Notre Dame's Eric Atkins hit a free throw with two seconds left before halftime to settle the score at 41-27 at the break—but Notre Dame would bounce back. The Fighting Irish opened the second half on a 22-6 run.
After a scorching hot first half for the Tar Heels, North Carolina couldn't score. They were 13 of 22 from inside the arc, had only three turnovers and had 11 assists on 16 total made field goals. But the Fighting Irish forced North Carolina away from the rim, where they had been thriving, and Notre Dame eventually took a 49-46 lead with 13 minutes to play.
James Michael McAdoo's jumper with three minutes to go gave the Tar Heels a 57-56 lead, and they would not trail after that. Paige was 2 of 4 from the foul line in the final 20 seconds to put the Tar Heels over the top before saving the game with his blocked shot with under two seconds to play.
North Carolina is now a half-game ahead of Duke in third place in the ACC standings with one game to play. Duke visits Wake Forest on Wednesday before the historic rivals play at North Carolina on Saturday to close out the regular season.
Oklahoma State Cowboys 77, Kansas State Wildcats 61
The Cowboys continue to eke their way closer and closer toward the inside of the NCAA tournament bubble after the disastrous seven-game losing streak that neither they nor Marcus Smart will let define their season. Smart had 18 points, six rebounds and five assists in Monday's 77-61 home win over Kansas State.
The win brought the Cowboys' Big 12 record to 8-9, and a road win over the Iowa State Cyclones on Saturday would not only bring their record even but would give them another big-time win that would essentially force the selection committee's hand in two weeks' time.
SB Nation bracketologist Chris Dobbertean had the Cowboys in the field of 68 as a No. 10 seed before Monday's win, and their résumé continued to improve with an easy home win against an NCAA tournament team.
Kansas State (20-10, 10-7) scored the first five points of the second half to get within three points at 35-32, but that's the closest the Wildcats would get.
Phil Forte led all scorers with 23 points, tying his season high.
North Carolina State Wolfpack 74, Pittsburgh Panthers 67
T.J. Warren has topped 30 plenty of times this season, but none were like what he did Monday. The 6'8 sophomore scored a career-high 41 in the Wolfpack's seven-point road win over Pittsburgh, and according to KenPom.com, it's North Carolina State's second-best win of the season (and best since a 65-58 win at Tennessee on Dec. 18).
The Wolfpack are now 18-12 and 8-9 in the ACC, and they'll close their regular season Sunday at home against Boston College. Before Monday's win, SB Nation bracketologist Chris Dobbertean had them "in the hunt" but squarely outside the field of 68.
Warren was 16 of 22 from the floor, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range. He was also 6 of 7 from the free-throw line, and he added five rebounds, four steals and three assists to his spectacular game Monday. The Wolfpack needed every bit of his contribution. Pittsburgh led by as many as 13 points in the first half, but North Carolina State scored eight unanswered to close the first half and take momentum in to the locker room.
Warren has now scored at least 20 points in his last 13 games, and he topped 30 for the eighth time this season against the Panthers.
Lamar Patterson had 17 points on his senior night. The Panthers have lost four of six and will close their regular season Saturday at Clemson.