Monday night, Syracuse put forth a valiant effort, but just did not have enough to get over the hump, dropping a 75-70 decision at #8 North Carolina. The Orange (19-11, 9-8 ACC) trailed by as many as 13 points in the second half, but fought back to get within one with under 2:30 to go, but could never break even.
SU hung in despite their worst three-point shooting effort in a month and a half, making only 5-of-20 (25 percent) from behind the arc. Syracuse shot much better from the closer line to help stay in the game, connecting on 19-of-23 from the foul line.
The Tar Heels (24-6, 13-4) maintained their hold on first place in the ACC in large part thanks to their athletic front line. UNC won the battle of the boards, 40-34, but did a large part of their work on the offensive end, snaring 19 offensive rebounds as a team. North Carolina also forced 15 Syracuse turnovers in the game and enjoyed a 53-16 advantage in bench points, in part due to two senior reserves displacing normal starters in the lineup for their final home game.
Carolina scored the first four points of the game, then the two squads played evenly on the scoreboard for the next eight points apiece. Following another Tar Heel basket, Syracuse went on a 9-0 run to take the lead.
Tyler Roberson started the burst with a putback as part of a three-point-play. Michael Gbinije hit a 17-foot stepback jumper to pull the Orange within one, then Tyler Lydon dropped in one of two foul shots to tie it. Roberson then corralled an offensive rebound and the ball eventually made its way to Malachi Richardson, who hit a deep three from the left wing for a 17-14 SU lead.
North Carolina responded with a run of their own, posting ten of the game’s next 11 points to regain control at 24-18. Syracuse again struck back with a run, this one to tie the game.
Frank Howard drove to set up Tyler Lydon on the baseline for a basket, then Gbinije connected on both ends of a one-and-one to pull the Orange within a deuce. Howard then answered a UNC score by dropping in a floater off a drive across the lane and Gbinije found DaJuan Coleman trucking down the lane for a lefty lay-in to knot the game at 26 a side.
The Heels responded once more, posting seven straight points. Trevor Cooney wiped out most of that with a pair of threes. His first one swished off the right wing in transition and the second came on a curl toward the top of the key to shave the Carolina lead to 33-32. Cooney would later set up Lydon at the rim for the final score of the half, a basket that clipped North Carolina’s lead to 38-34.
The Tar Heels opened the second half with a show of force, outscoring SU 12-3 to take control at 50-37 with just over five minutes elapsed. SU again replied with a string of points, this time getting six in a row to cut into the UNC lead.
Roberson rattled home an 18-footer to start things off. Lydon twice was fouled on drives to the basket and converted all four free throws to draw Syracuse within 50-43.
Carolina held the Orange at arm’s length for the next few minutes, but Michael Gbinije posted perhaps the highlight of the season for SU. Gbinije sliced into the lane on a corner three by Cooney that came off the rim, then elevated, caught the ball, and hammered home a two-handed slam while being fouled.
The athletic play gave the Orange a hop in their step. Coleman followed his own miss to cut the gap to six, then Gbinije fed Lydon at the top of the key for a trey that made it a five-point game. A couple possessions later, Cooney buried two from the stripe to pull Syracuse within 62-59 with seven minutes to go.
Once more, Carolina posted a run to get some breathing room, this time getting six straight points to push the lead to nine. The Orange bounced back with a half dozen markers of their own, started by Richardson making two out of three shots from the line after being fouled on a missed triple. Cooney made a pair of free throws, then stole the ball and got it to Gbinije, who fed Roberson for an alley-oop lay-in that made it a 68-65 game in favor of the Tar Heels.
After the Heels got one free throw, Gbinije drilled a stepback three-pointer to chip the margin down to 69-68 with under 2:30 to play. UNC, however, responded with scores on their next two trips for a 73-68 lead with just over a minute remaining.
Each team had a fruitless possession with North Carolina’s coming to an end on a Richardson steal at midcourt. The freshman took off with the ball and dunked to pull SU within 73-70. Following an Orange timeout, the Syracuse defense forced a missed shot and rebounded. Gbinije drove quickly, knifing toward the basket, but missed and the Heels grabbed the board.
SU was forced to foul with under seven seconds remaining and UNC got both shots to fall for a 75-70 lead. The Orange inbounded to Richardson, who raced upcourt and pulled up from three, but his shot caromed off the rim, snuffing out Syracuse’s comeback hopes.
Michael Gbinije posted ten of his 17 points after halftime and had seven assists, but just as many turnovers, a handful coming via offensive fouls. Trevor Cooney kept SU afloat early, scoring 10 of his 14 before halftime. Tyler Lydon, Malachi Richardson, and Tyler Roberson also contributed to a balanced Syracuse attack. Lydon had a dozen points off the bench, Richardson added ten, and Roberson had nine to go with a game-high 11 rebounds.
North Carolina also had a balanced attack, led By Brice Johnson’s 14-point, ten-rebound double-double. Joel Berry II had 13 points as a reserve, and Isaiah Hicks, Justin Jackson, and Kennedy Meeks all also had ten points apiece off the bench.
Syracuse now prepares for their regular season finale at Florida State on Saturday. The Orange defeated the Seminoles (17-12, 7-10) two-and-a-half weeks ago at the Carrier Dome, 85-72. That loss started a five-game slide for FSU, which they snapped in a big way on Saturday by routing Notre Dame at home, 77-56.
SU posted their highest point total of the campaign and also shot a season-high 62 percent from the field in the first matchup. Michael Gbinije led all scorers in the game with 22 points, knocking down 7-of-8 shots from the field, including 4-of-5 behind the arc. Malachi Rchardson added 17 points and Tyler Lydon posted his fourth double-double of the season with 15 points and ten rebounds. Devin Bookert and Malik Beasley paced four ‘Noles in double figures with 15 and 14 points, respectively.
Tip-off is slated for 2:00pm Eastern on Saturday with ESPN2 handling the television duties. The game will also be available online at espn3.com and through the ESPN app.