Orange Watch: Syracuse’s ACC report card incomplete at 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.

Item: Tuesday night’s tough 81-75 loss to North Carolina at Chapel Hill kept SU winless at that venue during the eight seasons the Orange have been ACC members. It remains the only locale Syracuse has yet to win a conference game.

Oh yes, Syracuse has won a game at the Dean E. Smith Center.

The victory came against North Carolina…. A&T, in the first round of the 1988 NCAA Tournament. (Orange Nation would just as soon forget the second round upset defeat at the hands of Rhode Island in the building two days later, playing with an ailing Sherman Douglas.)

Otherwise, Syracuse is now 0-for-5 against North Carolina at their comfortable home court. While the winless record has a lot to do with talented Tar Heel rosters and a Hall of Fame coach of its own during that span, we can’t shake the feeling that it took Clemson to its 60th meeting to finally win a game against Carolina in Chapel Hill.

We know it won’t take Syracuse nearly that long, right?

The ‘Cuse has mastered the Cameron Crazies at Duke twice, even won once each at Florida State, Louisville, Virginia and everywhere else as ACC members, but not at UNC.

“They’re a big team, they’re difficult for us,” head coach Jim Boeheim said Tuesday after a final SU comeback fell short, but could aptly describe most of the games in the series dating back to 2014.

“We almost have to play a perfect game on offense, but we got beat up in the paint,” Boeheim continued. “They battled as hard as they could, they gave it everything they had inside.”

Right now, whether its playing North Carolina or anyone else in the conference, Syracuse basketball resembles a doughnut; there’s a hole in the middle of its attack at both ends of the court. Bourama Sidibe is seemingly out indefinitely (“He cannot play,” Boeheim reiterated late Tuesday night), and the backup big man options remain limited.

“We don’t have anybody (else) that can play that position,” Boeheim explained. “Frank (Anselem) is out for at least two more weeks. We’re trying to develop Jesse (Edwards) in practice. Bol (John Bol Ajak) is too small. He can’t get it done out there. We’re still working with Jesse every day. We’re hoping he can give us some minutes in there. But he’s really the only alternative right now.

A game at Pittsburgh Saturday (12:00 p.m. ET / ACC Regional Sports Networks) provides Syracuse a first opportunity to avenge one of its current three defeats. Quincy Guerrier, the one big man who has played exceptionally well both scoring (16.4 ppg) and rebounding (9.5 rpg), sees a need to play 40 full minutes.

» Related: In game of runs, North Carolina has last laugh over Syracuse

“We’ve got to be able to finish games and be more physical, I think that’s the main point,” Guerrier said after the UNC loss. “I think that’s the reason why we’ve lost. We get to four minutes left, commit some turnovers. We’ve got to keep pushing to the end, that’s the main problem right now.”

North Carolina on Tuesday night became the first ACC team to play 1,000 regular season games. With 708 victories, five of those now over SU, that’s the most in league history.

Syracuse just played its 131st regular season ACC game in eight years as a conference member, and although SU gets another scheduled shot at Carolina March 1 in the Dome, winning at Chapel Hill for the first time will have to wait at least another season.

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About Brad Bierman 848 Articles
Now in his sixth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.