For eight minutes, it looked like North Carolina might get their fourth win over a top-five team on the season. After that, though, it was just another romp for #2 Syracuse, as they pulled away for a 57-45 home win that was not as close as the final score suggests. The Orange (16-0, 3-0 ACC) trailed by four points at the 12-minute mark of the first half, but outscored the Tar Heels (10-6, 0-3) by 23 points over the next 25 minutes to secure the victory.
During that dominant span in the middle of the game, SU’s defense with exquisite, holding UNC to 9-of-36 field goal shooting (25 percent). Two of the Heels’ baskets in that span came as a result of goaltending whistles against Syracuse and those made up four or Carolina’s last seven points of the first half.
The Orange were smart, yet aggressive on defense throughout, blocking nine shots as a team, but only drawing eight foul calls. That defensive effort helped offset a poor offensive showing by SU, as they made only 35 percent of their shots on the day.
North Carolina came out of the starting blocks strong, taking a pair of six-point leads, the latter at 10-4, before five minutes had elapsed. C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant came to life, though, leading Syracuse back into the game.
The starting forward tandem scored the next 19 points for the Orange, outscoring the Tar Heels by a dozen points over the next eight-and-a-half minutes. Grant stuck a 17-footer, then threw down an emphatic one-handed dunk to pull SU within one. Shortly after, Fair made a three-pointer, then drew a foul trying another on the next possession and made all three shots from the line for a 19-15 lead.
Fair then saved the ball after a rushed attempt that narrowly avoided a shot clock violation and Grant finished the possession with a pair of free throws. After a goaltend against the Orange, Grant tacked on two more charity shots to end the forwards’ run at 23-17.
SU was not done at that point. Tyler Ennis made a stickback to push the lead to eight. After a UNC free throw, Trevor Cooney hit a nice pull-up jumper, Michael Gbinije splashed a three, and Grant made another 17-footer to put the Orange up by a 32-18 margin. Carolina crept back within 34-22 at half.
The Tar Heels opened the second half with a dunk, but Cooney buried a three (after seven misses from deep) and Fair tacked on a short jumper and his second three-point play of the contest. The 8-0 burst strengthened Syracuse’s grasp on the game at 42-24 less than four minutes out of the break.
Carolina posted a 7-2 run to get within 13, then followed a deep Cooney three with two more jumpers to narrow the gap to 47-35. The Orange responded with an 8-1 run to take their biggest lead of the day at 55-36 with 6:45 to go. The SU offense only mustered one more bucket from there, but it was academic, as the game was already well in hand.
Four Syracuse players cracked double figures in scoring, led by C.J. Fair. Fair was the top scorer for the third consecutive game, finishing with 20 points. Jerami Grant hung his second straight double-double, complementing his 12 points (all in the first half) with a personal–best 12 boards.
While neither guard shot the ball well, Trevor Cooney and Tyler Ennis each had ten points. Cooney, in particular, struggled most of the day, finishing 4-of-17 from the floor, including missing 10-of-12 shots from three-point land. Cooney did some terrific work on defense, getting credited with five steals, and Rakeem Christmas did, as well, swatting four shots.
Marcus Paige paced the Tar Heels with 17 points while James Michael McAdoo, who scored eight in the opening five minutes, finished with 15 points and nine rebounds. No other North Carolina player had more than four points.
SU faces a quick turnaround, as they will travel east to play Boston College on Monday night. The Eagles (5-11, 1-2) snapped a four-game slide on Saturday when they won at Virginia Tech, 62-59.
BC is a two-headed monster on offense, as Oliver Hanlan and Ryan Anderson provide most of their scoring punch, averaging just under 35 points per game as a duo. Hanlan is the team’s top outside shooter, making two threes a game, while Anderson does his work inside, collecting 7.2 rebounds per contest.
The action starts at 9:00pm Eastern with ESPNU handling the television duties. The contest will also be available online at ESPN3.com or through the WatchESPN app.