A 16-15 ACC Tournament semifinal win over the top-ranked Syracuse Orange earned them a spot to face the seventh-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish (8-3) in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) title game to be played at Duke’s Koskinen Stadium on Sunday.
It’s a must-win situation that UNC is in if it doesn’t want to be the first national champion to miss the NCAA tournament since Virginia missed it in 2003.
It’s a situation they’re familiar with – cutting it close by just making the postseason that is.
Last year’s NCAA title win, the program’s first since 1991 and fifth overall, also included the distinction of the Tar Heels becoming the first unseeded national champion in the last 45 years.
A win over the Irish in this year’s ACC final a win would give the Tar Heels a winning record and a strong RPI, two NCAA selection committee criteria considered for postseason play.
Notre Dame just beat North Carolina last week, in a closely contested 14-13 regulation finish.
The Irish will expect nothing less from the Tar Heels, understanding the situation they are faced with.
After goalkeeper Shane Doss made his most critical save of 10 total in the dying seconds of regulation time, Notre Dame preserved a 7-6 win over the third-ranked and tournament host Duke Blue Devils (11-4).
They’ll be ready for anything because it’s the ACC.
“We see them in the exact same situation we saw them in the other day,” Notre Dame head coach Kevin Corrigan said of the Tar Heels.
“They had to win that game the other day, or this tournament. So, we saw them in a very physical game, a very demanding game. This is what the ACC is. You get two unbelievably competitive games, two really high-level games, two completely different types of games. All the teams are good, they’re talented, and well coached.”
“It’s a pleasure to compete in this league,” Corrigan continued.
“You’re playing against great coaches, great opponents – everybody’s got the things that they do really well. They adjust game-to-game. You can’t just comeback and re-run the first game because they’ll kill you on stuff they saw. At the end of the year, you need to be able to play different ways. You may have a way that you most desire to play, but that may not be the game you find yourself in in the tournament, and you’ve gotta find a way to win the game you’re in. It might be a low-scoring game that you didn’t want, or a high-scoring game you didn’t want. The key is finding a way to win it.”