CHAPEL HILL — Joel Berry wasn’t feeling too well on Monday afternoon.
Prior to North Carolina’s game against Notre Dame, the Tar Heels point guard had to make a quick trip to the dentist.
“It was something,” he said. “My tooth was aching.”
But that changed once he hit the court.
Berry scored a game-high 21 points to power the 14th-ranked Tar Heels to their third win in five days with an 83-66 victory over the Irish at the Smith Center.
“It felt good during the game,” he said of the tooth.
To go along with his toothache, Berry logged the most minutes of any Tar Heel during the three-game stretch with 37 minutes against Duke, 35 against N.C. State and 33 against the Irish.
“He’s a tough little nut,” said UNC coach Roy Williams.
“He’s got a bad tooth, but he’s got a big heart. … I feel great about the bunch. I was a little worried about Luke (Maye). I was really worried about Joel.”
With every made shot, it was evident Berry had enough in the tank to lead the Tar Heels (20-7, 9-5 ACC) through their three-game gauntlet unscathed.
He knocked down 8 of his 15 shots and scored 12 point after halftime to help the Heels pull away down the stretch.
“I honestly feel pretty good,” Berry said. “I felt I did a great job keeping my body in shape, and that was part of the reason why I wanted to come back this year. … I’ve done a great job with that throughout this stretch and throughout this whole year, honestly. It has helped, so coming out of this game I feel pretty good.”
The Tar Heels are the only team in the ACC this season that can lay claim to playing three regular-season league games in a five-day span.
Berry didn’t seem to mind.
“Maybe we should play more games where we have back-to-back-to-back games like that because we’ve been playing some pretty good basketball,” he said.
“I honestly think it’s our chemistry coming together. Cam (Johnson) came back in the middle of the season, and we really didn’t get a chance to gel with him. Now starting four guards, I think we’re starting to hit at the right time and on the defensive end I think we’re starting to get better and better each and every day. I think this was a good stretch for us.”
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said the schedule might have benefited UNC.
“Sometimes people look like it’s a disadvantage that they played three games in five days,” Brey said. “The players love it and they’re in a good rhythm. Sometimes when you’re playing well, you don’t want to mess with it in practice. I think they really found a great rhythm in this stretch.”
Each of UNC’s starters played 30-plus minutes over the three-game stretch, and each made their mark in the final minutes of Monday’s game to the seal the victory.
Notre Dame cut UNC’s lead to 58-57 after a 3-pointer by T.J. Gibbs with 9:39 left to play. The Tar Heels responded with a 22-6 run, capped with a layup by Berry to extend the lead to 17 points with under two minutes left.
Theo Pinson scored 14 of his 16 points after the break, pulled down 10 rebounds and dished out five assists.
Kenny Williams added 14 points and Cameron Johnson logged 13, including a baseline dunk over Rex Pflueger to get the Smith Center crowd fired up.
Luke Maye followed up his 33-point performance against N.C. State with just eight points against the Irish. But the junior forward still made his presence known with a couple of key assists down the stretch.
Kenny Williams said the four-game winning streak — which followed a three-game skid — gave him the feeling that the team was “turning the corner.”
“This stretch, especially this three-game stretch, was huge for us,” he said. “We picked our effort up a little bit and you could tell, and then we started finding our groove on the offensive end.”
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.