By Lou Somogyi, taken from 100 Years of Notre Dame Basketball
An ominous outlook preceded the 1986-87 campaign. The front court of Ken Barlow, Tim Kempton and Jim Dolan had graduated and junior All-American candidate David Rivers nearly lost his life in a vehicular accident three months before the start of the season. WIth the stellar point guard in convalescence, the Irish started 0-2 before nearly losing at home to Ivy League foe Cornell (they won 60-56). From there, Phelps concocted what many long-time followers consider his best pure coaching job in his 20 seasons at Notre Dame.
Highlighting the revival was Rivers' return to health and the victory over North Carolina on Feb. 1, 1987. North Carolina was without injured point guard Kenny Smith, but roared to a 32-16 lead with 3:16 left in the first half.
Yet that's when the Irish had the Heels right where they wanted them. In 1974, Notre Dame trailed No. 1 UCLA 33-16 before rallying to victory. And in 1976, No. 1 Marquette held a 34-17 cushion at Notre Dame before falling in the second half.
It was like old times again in the ACC as Irish role players Gary Voce and Sean Connor soared to levels once deemed unrealistic. At center, Voce average 1.9 points per game and didn't lead the team in rebounding once the first 13 contests. Against North Carolina, he was NBC-TV's Most Valuable Player in the game with 15 points and 10 rebounds versus at formidable front line that featured J.R. Reid, Joe Wolf and Dave Popson.
Meanwhile Connor, later a reserve punter for the 1988 national champions in football, came off the bench to drill a trio of three-pointers and finish with 13 points, augmenting the play of Mark Stevenson (10 points) and the often overshadowed Donald Royal (eight points).
But it was Rivers who provided the impetus after the Irish still trailed, 53-44, with four and a half minutes remaining. He scored eight points in the closing minutes, highlighted by a 15-foot jumper to put the Irish ahead for good (56-55) at 1:06 and added two free throws with 16 seconds left to make it 58-55.
The bedlam during this rally led to a technical foul against the student body for tossing hundreds of ND placards around the arena and onto the court in the final seconds, but the Irish were able to withstand the infraction.
"Amazingly, I felt like we were the underdog," said North Carolina head coach Dean Smith after the game.
Anytime a No. 1 basketball squad came into the ACC, it was.
Later that same month at home, the Irish upended No. 15 Duke in overtime (70-66) and No. 4 DePaul (73-62). Notre Dame's11-game winning streak finally was snapped by North Carolina (74-68) in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, as the Irish finished 24-8.