North Carolina moves on to NCAA Finals as Syracuse basketball’s dream ends

Syracuse was eliminated on Saturday
Syracuse was eliminated on Saturday

Syracuse’s run to the Final Four had been propelled by strong second half play. Saturday night, the Orange had the tables turned on them by a superior North Carolina team, getting dominated in the second half en route to an 83-66 loss. The Tar Heels (33-6) shot 60 percent from the floor and owned a +10 rebounding advantage after halftime, powering their victory. The Orange end their season at 23-14.

Throughout the game, Carolina was able to puncture the 2-3 zone of Syracuse to exploit their superior height inside. While they could not buy a long range shot, as evidenced by starting the game 0-for-12 on threes, the Heels shot 64.6 percent (31-of-48) inside the arc on the night and rolled up 50 points in the paint.

The Orange, meanwhile, had a tough night shooting from everywhere. SU connected on a shade under 41 percent of their field goals, including 32 percent of their shots behind the arc.

The two squads mostly matched scores for the first 12 minutes of the game. Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije each hit jumpers from just below the free throw line to match early UNC scores, then Malachi Richardson added a free throw for the first Syracuse lead of the night at 5-4. Tyler Lydon then got a generous bounce on a deep left wing three to give the Orange an 8-6 lead.

Following a pair of Tar Heel baskets, Cooney rattled in a straightaway 18-footer to tie the game. Richardson employed a jab step to get space, then drained a three for what would end up to be SU’s biggest lead of the game at 13-10 with just over five minutes elapsed.

While Syracuse would not score for over four minutes, their defense held off Carolina for the most part, only falling behind by a single point. Gbiinje then found Lydon in the left corner for a three to give the Orange the lead again, this time at 16-14. Tyler Roberson would later follow a missed lay-up with a two-handed dunk to tie the score at 18.

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The Tar Heels then needed less than two minutes to roll up a 9-0 run for a 27-18 lead with just under six minutes left in the half. SU responded with Richardson setting up Coleman on the pick-and-roll for a lay-in, then driving for his own lay-up to pull within five points.

The two teams played pretty evenly for a couple minutes, but UNC then added six quick points to their side of the ledger to grab a 12-point lead late in the half. Gbinije was able to knock down a foul shot before the horn to send the teams to the locker room with the Heels on top, 39-28.

Cooney gave Syracuse a jolt by rattling home a three for the first score of the second half, but Carolina struck back with the next four points to regain control. Gbinije then connected on a pull-up jumper to bring the Orange within ten points, but UNC added the game’s next six points for a 49-33 lead less then four minutes out of intermission.

The two teams matched scores for nearly four minutes, then SU made a run.
Cooney started things off by swishing a deep three from the right wing, then came up with a steal and went the distance for a two-handed dunk. Richardson then knifed through the Heels defense for a lay-in and later added a long three from the top of the key to slice the deficit to 57-50 just past the midpoint of the half.

North Carolina promptly responded with their first trey of the night, triggering a 10-3 run that re-established a 14-point lead. Gbinije responded with a stepthrough move for a short jumper and Richardson also added a lay-in to bring Syracuse within 67-57 with under six minutes to go.

The Orange, however, would never get the gap down to single digits again. Cooney would score the next seven SU points, the last coming on an isolation drive with just over three minutes on the clock, but they always came in reply to Tar Heel markers.

UNC salted away the game with a 9-0 run that pushed their lead to 19 points with just over a minute remaining. Lydon closed the scorebook, and the Syracuse season, with a two-handed slam on an offensive rebound.

In his final game for the Orange, Trevor Cooney topped all scorers with 22 points, including 18 in the second half. Cooney made 4-of-8 three-pointers in the game and also grabbed three steals. Malachi Richardson had 17 points for SU while Michael Gbiinje added a dozen and Tyler Lydon contributed eight off the bench.

The Tar Heels had a balanced scoring attack, led by their starting big men. Justin Jackson and Brice Johnson, who each dropped in 16 points, were supported by Kennedy Meeks who had 15. The starting guards were almost as effective. Marcus Paige also reached double digits with 13 points and Joel Berry II had eight points and handed out ten assists.

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About Jim Stechschulte 894 Articles
A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by He currently resides in Syracuse.