Syracuse basketball bounces back, surprising North Carolina

Dolezaj UNC
Syracuse Orange forward Marek Dolezaj (21) goes up for a shot against North Carolina Tar Heels forward Justin Pierce (32). Mandatory Credit: Initra Marilyn, The Juice Online.

After scoring the first seven points of the night, 6th-seeded Syracuse never looked back, leading by as many as 30 points en route to hammering North Carolina in the second round of the ACC Tournament, 81-53. After that opening volley, the Orange (18-14) allowed the 14th-seeded Tar Heels (14-19) to get back within four points, but closed the first half with a 19-2 run, including the final 15 points of the opening session, to blow the game open.

While SU had a pretty good night on offense, making 46.7 percent of their shots from the floor and one-third of their three-pointers, Carolina could not do anything. The Tar Heels made just one-third of their field goals and a meager 2-of-16 from long distance, missing their first eight attempts from deep. The Syracuse defense also forced 18 turnovers on the night, turning them into 27 points.

The Orange needed just 70 seconds for a 7-0 lead. Marek Dolezaj struck immediately, notching a spinning lay-up off the opening tip. Elijah Hughes hit a three from the left corner and Dolezaj drove the right side of the key for a lay-up, making it a 7-0 game.

Dolezaj’s next basket, a score from the left block just over four minutes later, staked SU to their biggest lead of the early going, making it a 17-6 game with just over five minutes off the clock. North Carolina chipped away, getting the lead down to seven points, then later scored on three straight possessions to close within 24-20 with a little under seven minutes to play in the opening half.

And that is when Syracuse blew the game open.

Quincy Guerrier scored on a putback and added a jumper from above the free throw line. UNC responded with a jump shot with 5:24 left on the clock, but that was their last score of the half.

Guerrier made one foul shot, then Bourama Sidibe a pair after being on the receiving end of an elbow that drew a flagrant one call. Buddy Boeheim converted the ensuing possession by curling for a left elbow jumper to match the biggest margin to that point at 33-22.

» Related: Syracuse likely needs to win ACC Tournament to make NCAAs

While they did not score for the next 90 seconds, the Orange were not done. Sidibe hit the front end of a one-and-one, then Joe Girard III tossed a lob for a Guerrier lay-up and connected from the right corner for three. Hughes then closed the half by spinning for a short push shot and drilling a fadeaway jumper from the right wing.

When the dust settled, SU held a 43-22 stranglehold at the half.

Syracuse kept the Heels at arm’s length for six-and-a-half minutes of the second session, but the Tar Heels’ Leaky Black made a three-pointer and a three-point-play, slicing the Orange lead to 57-41.

SU responded with a 9-2 run to snuff out any Carolina comeback dreams. Boeheim swished a three from the right break and Sidibe dropped in the basket on the doorstep. Hughes gathered a loose rebound for an easy lay-in and Girard lobbed to Sidibe for a two-handed slam, swelling the Syracuse lead to 66-43.

The two teams traded scores until UNC simply stopped, but the Orange kept at it. The result was nine straight points. Boeheim had six in the burst, piling up a foul shot, a triple, and a transition lay-up for an 81-51 advantage with 2:28 to go.

Elijah Hughes validated his First Team All-ACC appearance, hitting four threes as he poured in a game-high 27 points. Buddy Boeheim added 17 points, piling up 15 in the second half. Marek Dolezaj added 13 points while Bourama Sidibe posted a 12-point, 13-rebound double-double with three steals and a pair of blocks. Quincy Guerrier had seven points and nine boards while Joe Girard III handed out eight assists.

Garrison Brooks and Leaky Black were the only players to reach double digits for Carolina. Brooks paced the Tar Heels with 18 points while Black had 14. Armando Bacot chipped in with eight points and a team-high seven rebounds.

The Orange advance to face Louisville, the third seed in the tournament. The Cardinals (24-7), who finished the regular season ranked #15, waxed SU in their regular season meeting at home, a 90-66 game.

Jordan Nwora’s 17 points led the Cards, who used a 22-4 second half run to grab a 25-point lead midway through the second half, while Dwayne Sutton tacked on 16. Buddy Boeheim topped SU with 15 points and Quincy Guerrier had 14 in the contest.

The Syracuse-Louisville quarterfinal game is slated for an approximate 9:00pm Eastern start (20 minutes after the conclusion of the 7:00pm Eastern game) on Thursday and will be televised by ESPN.

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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.