Syracuse loses close game to No. 10 North Carolina, 78-74
Comeback falls short for Syracuse against UNC
An opportunity to secure a big Top-10 win at home versus North Carolina (22-7, 11-5 ACC) slipped away from the Syracuse Orange (18-10, 7-8 ACC), losing 78-74 on Wednesday.
In front of 27,165 fans in orange and blue, Syracuse tried multiple times to come back in the game and grab a late lead against a Tar Heels team entering the game on five-straight wins.
“We did everything we could to get back in it. Frank (Howard), Tyus (Battle) and Oshae (Brissett) were tremendous.” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said after the game.
A Frank Howard three-pointer gave Syracuse an early 3-2 lead, however the Orange settled on low-percentage outside shots as North Carolina capitalized on second-chance points.
An 11-2 run for the Orange came midway through the first half. Freshman forward Marek Dolezaj hit a running jump shot from the key. Battle hit a pair of layups followed by a Howard three-point shot.
The 10th-ranked Tar Heels responded well, going on their own run to increase their lead to eight. The Orange had no answer for Luke Maye, the junior forward from Huntersville, NC. Matched up with Dolezaj in the middle, he was able to get his floaters to fall.
North Carolina had a 12-point lead with seconds remaining, when Battle attempted a three. His blocked shot went out of bounds, leaving the Orange with two seconds to come up with something. Brissett had a catch-and-shoot chance on the sideline, draining the three to make it a 41-32 game.
Brissett began the second half how he ended the first, hitting a three. Howard scored five straight to cut the deficit to five. However, the Tar Heels would not quit. An offensive rebound for junior guard Kenny Williams gave another opportunity for points, when Cameron Johnson hit a jump shot and drew a foul. North Carolina had 19 second-chance points compared to Syracuse’s 12.
Boeheim kept a similar lineup for a majority of the second half, with freshman forward Matthew Moyer and center Bourama Sidibe seeing limited minutes. Moyer finished the game with two points and one rebound.
North Carolina increased its lead midway through the second half through accurate ball distribution and the ability to grab offensive rebounds. On one possession, North Carolina grabbed two loose balls.
“Two or three times we stopped them, and we just couldn’t get the rebound and they capitalized,” Boeheim said.
The Orange unleashed the full-court press with 8:31 remaining. It led to a foul under the hoop, with Maye converting one of two from the line. However, his miss led to another opportunity for the Tar Heels.
The press did not work the way Boeheim planned it to, however North Carolina failed to take its chances.
A Battle turnover led to a 2-on-1 opportunity for UNC, but a driving Joel Berry found his shot blocked by Brissett.
Brissett had his second block with five minutes remaining, which began to flip a switch for the Orange defense. They kept the Tar Heels scoreless for over three minutes, converting three-straight scores for the Orange to tie the game at 74. This 62-second sequence brought the Orange crowd to its feet, hoping a repeat of last year’s victory over Tobacco Road rival Duke may be repeated.
“We have the best fans in the country,” Battle said.
Berry missed a corner three. However, a turnover by Chukwu gave Berry a chance for redemption as he scored a layup.
“It’s very disappointing to have the ball, 70 point game, and to give them the ball. That’s just not a good play, and it’s very disappointing,” Boeheim said.
A deep Howard three went empty, leading to him fouling Berry and forcing him to go to the line. Berry scored both, making it a four-point lead. A Battle drive was blocked, A Brissett three went long, and Syracuse fans began to pile out of the dome.
“We were hitting those shots all game, we just didn’t hit it at the end,” Brissett said.
“We had the game won, we just gave the ball up at the end,” Battle added.
Despite the result, Boeheim praised his team’s “tremendous” effort when looking ahead to the final stretch of the season.
“We won at Miami, we won at Louisville. No one thought we would be able to win either game. I am absolutely encouraged, we’re playing really good basketball,” Boeheim said.
The Orange play its next game Saturday at Duke. This “mini-rivalry” is something Howard is looking forward to.
“That rivalry, that game a few years back down there, it’ll definitely drive us. We’ll go down there with a lot of confidence.” Howard said.
Syracuse beat Duke, 64-62, on Jan. 18, 2016 in the last game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.