Syracuse led by double-digits late, but nearly surrendered the lead before hanging on a a 72-70 win over North Carolina on Monday evening at the Carrier Dome.
Here are the key takeaways from the win:
Joe Girard struggles to get double-digit minutes
Sophomore starting guard Joe Girard has struggled to find his flow all season, and is averaging just 10.0 points per game on 36 percent shooting from the field. Girard played only 10 minutes, and only four in the second half, only because Kadary Richmond suffered in injury late. Girard made the most of his late game playing tie, hitting three free throws to put the game out of reach.
Richmond played the majority of the first half, and nearly all of the second, finishing with 9 assists and 6 points, and perhaps more importantly, playing 21 more minutes than Girard.
“I think he’ll be all right,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said of Richmond. “But I don’t know.”
Richmond has played key minutes over Girard in the last three games. Girard played only 10 minutes on Monday, 26 against Georgia Tech, and a combined 40 against Notre Dame and Duke. During that span, he’s averaged just 5.0 ppg.
Jesse Edwards comes up big down low for Syracuse
Sophomore center Jesse Edwards has been used sparing all season, playing in just 11 games and averaging 6.5 minutes in those games.
But Edwards came alive against Miami on Jan. 19 with Marek Dolezaj in foul trouble. He played 23 minutes and finished with 7 points and 6 rebounds.
Edwards only played a combined five minutes in three games since then, but on on Saturday, he played 23 minutes against Georgia Tech, and finished with 7 points and 8 rebounds. With Dolezaj in foul trouble again on Monday, Edwards played 24 minutes, and collecting 6 points and 8 rebounds, showing that he deserves more playing time.
After getting outrebounded 18-3 to start the game, Edwards entered and helped stabilize the back line. Syracuse ended up being outrebounded by 4 the rest of the way.
“He was active,” Boeheim said. “He grabbed the ball better. He’s still not ready but he gave us a lot tonight.”
The Orange remain on the outside looking in
Even with a win against UNC, the Orange still have a long way to go to hear their name called on Selection Sunday.
That’s because Syracuse has zero Q1 wins, and has not found success on the road. The Orange let two opportunities in Q1 games slip last week, losing to Georgia Tech and Duke on the road, both teams who have Top 75 NET rankings (a Q1 win is awarded for a road win against a top 75 NET team).
Syracuse closes out the regular season against Clemson on Wednesday. The Tigers are not a Top 25 NET team, but are in the top 75, which makes this another Q2 game. Even if it is not a Q1 game, the Orange will need all the help it can get to bolster its resume for the NCAA committee.
Syracuse is a projected 8 seed in the ACC Tournament which will place them against likely NC State or Georgia Tech. Even if Syracuse were to win that game, they would likely need a win over top-seeded Florida State to be back in the NCAA bubble conversation.
“We know we have work to do,” Buddy Boeheim said of SU’s NCAA chances. “We let some games go. Coming into this one, we were like, ‘why not?’ It’s the mindset right now. We are taking it one game at a time.”