For the fourth time this season, Syracuse lost by four points or less, this time giving away a 72-68 decision at the JMA Wireless Dome to North Carolina. Things went sideways for the Orange (13-8, 6-4 ACC) when Jesse Edwards fouled out 21 seconds to play with SU holding a 68-66 lead.
The Tar Heels’ Pete Nance made his first free throw, then missed the second. In the scramble for the rebound, Joe Girard III batted the ball toward the baseline then dove to try to save the possession. Only when Girard swatted the ball back onto the court, it went to Nance, who dropped the ball in the basket for a 69-68 edge.
Judah Mintz drove for a lay-up on the following possession, only to commit an offensive foul with 10.7 seconds remaining. After an officials’ review, Mintz was assessed a flagrant-one foul for an elbow to the face of the Carolina defender. The Heels (15-6, 7-3) got one of two free throws, then another pair after Mintz fouled on the ensuing inbounds play with no time off the clock. The foul shots pushed the UNC lead to 72-68 and Girard missed a three seconds later, effectively ending the game.
Nance led all scorers in the game with 21 points for North Carolina, including 13 in the second half. Armando Bacot had 18 points and eight rebounds. Caleb Love made a trio of treys as he had 15 points and R.J. Davis chipped in with nine points.
Girard connected from long range four times, finishing with 18 points for Syracuse. Mintz had 17 points, ten coming in the second half. Chris Bell made three triples and had 15 points while Edwards had eight points, seven rebounds, and five blocked shots before fouling out.
The Orange got off to another one of their now-patented slow starts, falling behind 13-4 in the first five minutes of play. While SU continued to chip away at the margin, UNC kept answering, hitting that nine-point advantage three more times.
Syracuse finally snapped that spell with an 8-2 burst as Girard had a hand in each score. The senior guard started things by hitting a three, then answered a Tar Heel basket with a jumper. Girard then fed Bell for a trey and the Orange were within 24-21 with a little over nine minutes left in the opening half.
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North Carolina kept SU at bay for the next several minutes, with the hosts matching every volley until Mintz knocked down a triple to get them within a deuce at 34-32, the closest they had been since tip-off. The Tar Heels doubled that lead before halftime, taking a 38-34 lead to the locker room.
Syracuse got the first two baskets after action resumed to knot the score, then grabbed the lead on a hook shot by Edwards less than three minutes into the second half at 42-41. North Carolina used a 12-2 burst shortly after that to secure their biggest lead of the game at 56-46.
The Orange immediately replied with an 11-3 run to draw within 59-57, capped by a pair of Bell three-pointers. The Heels nudged the lead back out to five, but Mintz dropped in a jumper, a pair of foul shots, and a lay-up to push SU to a 63-62 lead with just over four minutes remaining.
Two baskets put Carolina back in front by three, but a Maliq Brown lay-up and a Girard triple gave Syracuse a 68-66 lead, setting the stage for the Heels’ dramatic turnaround.
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