Monday night, Syracuse put their NCAA Tournament hopes back on life support by holding on late to win a game of runs against North Carolina, 72-70. The Orange (14-8, 8-7 ACC) used a pair of big streaks in the second half to open up a 14-point lead with a little over five minutes to play, then withstood a furious rally to escape the Tar Heels (15-9, 9-6).
SU eked out the win despite getting roughed up inside throughout the game. Carolina held an 18-3 rebounding advantage after eight minutes and owned a 53-33 margin in the entire game, including grabbing 26 offensive rebounds compared to 20 defensive rebounds for Syracuse. The Heels turned all those extra opportunities into 25 second chance points.
While they did not rebound well on defense, what the Orange did do on that end of the floor was create turnovers. SU forced 20 UNC miscues, including snaring 15 steals, then converted them into 28 points. North Carolina also had a difficult night shooting, making just over 38 percent of their shots, including a meager 4-for-20 from three-point range, two of those treys coming in the final two minutes.
The Tar Heels started strong, running off nine straight points for an early 11-2 lead. Syracuse answered with eight straight markers to wipe out most of that lead. Jesse Edwards muscled up through a defender for a basket, then Marek Dolezaj contributed a three-point play. Buddy Boeheim hit the first of his five first half threes to pull the Orange within one.
Carolina answered with another burst, this one an 11-3 volley that gave them a nine-point lead once more, this time at 22-13 with less than seven minutes left in the opening half.
SU answered by scoring 21 of the final 27 points before halftime, including the final 11. Quincy Guerrier knocked down a pair of triples to help bring Syracuse within three points, then Boeheim took over the rest of the way, connecting on a trio of treys in the last three minutes of the half for the bulk of the 11-0 barrage. The burst gave the Orange a 34-28 lead at the break.
Boeheim dropped in a foul shot to start the second half scoring, then the guests posted eight unanswered points to nose ahead. SU dominated the next five minutes of play, hanging a 15-2 outburst.
Two Edwards foul shots put Syracuse back in front, then Boeheim connected on a three from the right break. A Carolina basket brought them within a deuce, but Guerrier (six) and Kadary Richmond (four) combined for ten straight markers and made it 50-38, Orange, with just under eight minutes elapsed in the second half.
The Tar Heels did not go away, though, running off seven straight points to claw within five. After each team added a basket to the ledger, SU posted their final run, an 11-2 burst that gave them their biggest lead of the night.
Boeheim started it with an answered prayer in the key for a three-point-play. After a UNC foul shot, Edwards then somehow got wide open on an inbounds play for an easy slam. Guerrier scored on another inbounds play, then got past the defense for a transition lay-up. Dolezaj then followed another Carolina free throw by spinning unto the paint for a lay-up that gave the Orange a 63-49 advantage with a little over five minutes to play.
North Carolina worked the margin down to nine, but SU held them at bay until a three-pointer with 1:48 left cut the lead to 68-62. Two Alan Griffin free throws made the margin eight, but the Heels halved that with a foul shot and a three after the second foul shot was missed and the offensive rebound secured.
Syracuse turned the ball over and the Tar Heels converted the steal into a lay-up, making it a 70-68 game with 18 seconds remaining.
Joe Girard III made the first of two from the line, then fouled after missing the second to not permit UNC a three-point shot. The Heels’ Caleb Love missed both free throws and Girard snagged the board, then was fouled. Girard made one of two again, nudging the Orange lead to 72-68 with 10 seconds left. Carolina could only muster a lay-up at the horn, cutting the final gap to two.
Buddy Boeheim led the way for SU, scoring 26 points, including making five of his six threes and 17 points total in the first half. Quincy Guerrier joined him in double figures, making 8-of-13 shots from the field en route to 18 points. Marek Dolezaj did a little of everything, finishing with eight points, five rebounds, five assists, three steals, and three blocks. Kadary Richmond had six points, nine assists, and four steals before leaving late in the game with a leg injury.
Armando Bacot was a force inside for Carolina, finishing with 18 points and 15 rebounds. Garrison Brooks had 11 points while Caleb Love chipped in with ten points and eight boards. R.J. Davis added nine points to the UNC effort. The Heels’ top perimeter threat, Kerwin Walton, struggled in the game, missing all seven of his threes and finishing 1-for-10 from the floor.
The Orange will close their schedule on Wednesday when they play Clemson in a re-scheduled game. The Tigers (15-5, 9-5) have won their last five games around a pair of postponements, including a 78-61 home victory over Syracuse in the first week of February.
Aamir Simms led Clemson with 18 points and 11 rebounds in that contest, while Nick Honor made five threes for 15 points. Joe Girard III paced the Orange with a game-high 19 points in the contest.
Simms is the lone Tigers averaging double digits in points at 13.6 per game. He also tops the team in rebounds at 6.2 per game and assists at 2.5 an outing. Honor is second on the Clemson squad in scoring and leads the team in three pointers (37) and three-point percentage (39.8 percent).
SU and the Tigers will tip off at 5:00pm Eastern on Wednesday with the action being televised on the ACC Network.