UNC vs. ND: Analyzing the Last Play


The North Carolina Tar Heels lost on Monday night to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, falling by just a point to a very good ACC foe. The big play of the game was the last play, where Marcus Paige airballed a three-pointer as time expired, and UNC ended up falling in dramatic, depressing fashion.

Before we get too deep in analyzing the last play, keep this in mind — the last play is never the reason a team wins or looses. There are hundreds of plays before it in the game that impact the last score just as much. Fans like to focus on just the last play, and analyze only the last shot, while in reality that’s just not fair to the team.

That being said, the last play of the game has a disproportionately high impact on the result of the game in a close game like this. Let’s take a look at the last few seconds of the game, looking specifically at the last play.

Setting the stage — there are four seconds left, Steve Vasturia at the line. He misses the first. He misses the second, and Isaiah Hicks grabs the rebound and Carolina calls a timeout.

3.7 left, UNC takes the ball, inbounding from the baseline. The ball goes to Joel Berry II, who dribbles up the sideline. As he crosses half court, Carolina calls a timeout.

Some want Berry to take the last shot, and I say no way. You have to call a timeout here. The screenshot, around a second before UNC gets the timeout…

I fully support calling the timeout here. Berry II probably shoots a contested jumper, and if you are Roy Williams, would you rather have Berry II shooting a pull-up from the free throw line or the time to draw a play and potentially get the ball in Marcus Paige’s hands? I want Marcus taking the final shot, so I am okay with this call. In fact, I support it 100%.

Reset now. 1.4 on the clock. J.P. Tokoto inbounding the ball. UNC needs a basket — a two or a three will do here.

Roy draws up a play in the huddle. Pretty simple play. The setup right as Tokoto gets the ball…

Paige (closest Carolina player to the UNC bench) will follow the three-point line, running past the double screen and following the three-point line to the other side of the court.

Also as a part of the play — Brice Johnson (standing at the three-point line in the screenshot above) will dart to the basket, presumably for an alley-oop or quick two, while Justin Jackson will stay put and line up for a jump shot. In the corner, Joel Berry II starts under the basket and darts out to the three-point line.

I’m guessing Marcus Paige is the first option here. Ideally, you get the ball to him at the top of the key and its a quick catch and shoot. Johnson has to be wide open to call for the risky pass from Tokoto (one of the better passers on the team, but might Meeks have been the passer if he didn’t foul out?). Jackson and Berry II are safety valves.

How the play unfolds, half a second later…

As you can see, Paige draws two defenders with him. I think the ball should have gone to him a few steps earlier, but the guy jumping for the Irish probably got in the way. Brice Johnson was open a split second ago, but that window has past. Now it is Justin Jackson’s turn to be wide open, standing at the three-point arc.

Tokoto passes to Paige. Here is the screenshot when he receives the ball…

Triple teamed Paige shoots a forced three-pointer. Not the look that Roy Williams wanted. Look at how open Justin Jackson was!!!

The result of the play was a miss by Paige. UNC looses by one.

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About the play — I think it was a very well-drawn up play. The only problem I have is that when Berry II darts out to the three-point line, he brings his defender with him. That creates a triple team for Paige, and his shot becomes much harder with that third defender. However, Roy probably wanted Paige to catch the ball sooner in the play, so the way he drew it up, that wouldn’t have mattered.

If Tokoto gets a do-over, do you think he passes to Brice or Jackson? I think he does pass to Brice, but again, you want the ball in the hands of your best player at the end of the game. Remember, as open as Jackson was, he would be shooting a three-pointer, and Jackson is shooting 21.9% from three this season. A higher percentage than Paige’s contested airball, but that shots not a lock to go in either.

No major complaints here with the play, ND just defended it well. Tokoto should have gotten the ball to Paige sooner, and maybe he would have gotten a better look.

It was a well-drawn up play, but it was poorly executed by the Tar Heels. Don’t blame this play for the loss, though. 1.7 seconds isn’t much time to do much of anything, and again, one play doesn’t win or loose a game. Heck, UNC missed five field goals in the last minute of play. There are so many plays before that would have changed the result, don’t blame the loss on just this one play.

One last word — tough loss for Tar Heel fans to swallow, but don’t get too down on this team. They will keep getting better. Fans will know a lot more after seeing how they play against Louisville this weekend.