Syracuse mustered a furious rally Wednesday night, but they could not get over the hump, dropping a 78-74 game to #10 North Carolina at the Carrier Dome. The Orange (18-10, 7-8 ACC) rallied from a 12-point second half deficit, including using an 8-0 run to tie the game with just over three minutes left, but could not score again. The late drought allowed the Tar Heels (22-7, 11-5) to escape with the victory and leave SU still looking for a major win to put on their NCAA Tournament resume.
After a poor first half defensive effort, Syracuse rallied by holding Carolina to 36.1 percent shooting in the second half, including allowing only two field goals in a stretch of over nine minutes to fuel their comeback. The Orange also made half of their field goal tries in the second half, but that mark includes missing their final seven field goal attempts of the night.
Tyus Battle was a driving force in the comeback, as he rolled up 16 points in under five-and-a-half minutes, including the tying score. His backcourt mate, Frank Howard, did a lot of heavy lifting to keep SU within striking distance, as he poured in 15 points, including three triples, in the first 13 minutes of the second half.
Frank Howard hit a three under a minute into the game for a 3-2 Syracuse lead, which would prove to be their sole edge of the night. North Carolina responded with the game’s next six points and tacked on an 8-0 run a few minutes later for a 19-7 lead just before the midpoint of the first half.
The Orange needed just over two minutes to respond with an 11-2 run started by Marek Dolezaj’s reverse lay-up. Tyus Battle sliced through the Tar Heel defense twice for lay-ins to make it six straight SU points. Carolina countered with a jumper, but Howard splashed a three and Battle added two foul shots to bring Syracuse within 21-18.
UNC set about strengthening their lead, needing three minutes to get the margin out to eight, then made it 11 on back-to-back triples with just over three minutes left in the first half. The Heels made their lead a dozen in the final minute of the half, but Oshae Brissett got free to hit a three off an inbound pass just before the halftime buzzer to bring the Orange within 41-32 at halftime.
After the Tar Heels opened the second half with a basket, Brissett and Howard each hit a three, the latter a turnaround to beat the shot clock, to bring SU within five. A couple minutes later, Howard swished a jumper to make it a 47-44 score.
After a couple minutes of even play, the Tar Heels threw up a 12-3 run to take a 12-point lead once more at 63-51. Howard buried another three to bring Syracuse within nine. A Battle three-point-play would shave another point off the gap and his lay-up on the next possession would make it a seven-point game.
Howard would follow two UNC foul shots by getting free for another triple, then Battle sliced through the defense for a reverse lay-up and a 68-64 score with under seven minutes left.
The Orange offense went temporarily cold and the Tar Heels got two triples around a pair of Howard free throws to go up, 74-66, with just under five minutes to play.
SU mounted a furious rally, started by Howard, who zipped a pass to Brissett for a slam. Battle took over from there, connecting on a pair of foul shots. The sophomore guard then turned a blocked shot by Paschal Chukwu into a lay-up and tacked on a pull-up jumper in transition that knotted the score at 74 with just over three minutes on the clock.
Neither team could score for a couple possessions until Joel Berry II ripped the ball away from Chukwu after an offensive rebound and went the distance for a lay-up and a 76-74 Carolina lead. Syracuse got a couple looks on their next possession, but neither went home and UNC rebounded.
Berry II missed a three and Chukwu cleared the glass. Following a timeout, the Orange tried to get the ball to Battle, but could not and Howard had to improvise. Howard shook his man and pulled the trigger from beyond the arc, but his shot missed and the Heels grabbed the board.
Berry II tacked on two foul shots to make it a four-point game. Battle’s lay-up was rejected out of bounds and Brissett missed a three that Carolina cleared, effectively ending the game.
Tyus Battle powered the Orange with a game-high 26 points, including 18 in the second half. Frank Howard had 17 points after halftime and finished the game with 23, including five three-pointers. Oshae Brissett had his 11th double-double of the season, finishing with 17 points and ten rebounds, as well as three blocks. Paschal Chukwu led all players with 11 rebounds and four blocks.
Theo Pinson was a thorn in SU’s side all night, scoring 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting, as well as handing out seven assists and grabbing six boards. Joel Berry II hit four threes for most of his scored 18 points. Sterling Manley added a dozen points while Luke Maye helped the Carolina cause with nine.
SU returns to action on Saturday when they visit #5 Duke. The Blue Devils (23-5, 11-4) have won four in a row, including an 82-56 throttling of Louisville on Wednesday night.
Five different Blue Devils average double digits in scoring, led by Marvin Bagley III, who averages 21.2 points and 11.4 rebounds points per game. Bagley III has missed the last four games, but may return Saturday. Grayson Allen, Gary Trent Jr., and Wendell Carter Jr. all average at least 14 points per game and Allen and Trent have each made over 75 threes on the season.
Tip-off is slated for 6:15pm Eastern Saturday with ESPN handling the television duties. The game will also be available online at ESPN3.com.