Report Card: #2 Syracuse Muscles Past North Carolina 57-45

Rough game, Roy? - Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

In one of the most anticipated games of the season, the Syracuse Orange welcomed the North Carolina Tar Heels to the Carrier Dome for a matchup of perennial national powers.

After a customary slow start that saw UNC jump out to a quick 10-4 lead, the Orange got it together and went on a 30-12 run the rest of the way to go up by 12 at the half. They controlled the second half, despite taking their foot off the gas a little on defense (according to Jim Boeheim), but had the game pretty much in hand. SU cruised to a 57-45 victory to move to 16-0 on the season and 3-0 in the ACC.

Here is my report card from courtside Saturday afternoon:

Head of the Class

C.J. Fair: The preseason player of the year lived up to the hype in perhaps the biggest game of the season thus far. In front of 32,121 fans and a national ESPN audience, Fair showed off the multiple facets of his game that make him one of the best players in the country. He scored from everywhere on the court, from the corner, the wing, driving to the basket, the free throw line - on his way to 20 points on 6-14 from the floor (and 7-8 from the line) in a full 40 minutes. He also gathered 8 rebounds, 7 of them on the defensive end, and pitched in 2 blocks to help stifle the Tar Heels attack.

“I felt great about my performance,” said Fair after the game. “I took what the defense gave me, and I knocked it down. He added “I got it going, and when they keyed on me Jerami stepped it up.”

Passing Grades

Jerami Grant: This is the Jerami Grant Syracuse fans want to see every game. This is the Jerami Grant that has NBA scouts salivating and opposing coaches scratching their heads. Grant was a ball of energy Saturday, and considering the stage this may have been his best game of the year. He had 12 points on 4-8 FG shooting and 4-6 FT shooting, with 12 rebounds (4 offensive) and 2 blocks in 40 minutes. He seemed to be everywhere, challenging shots, crashing the glass, cutting through the lane, and doing all the hustle things that make him the great player he is. He even looked more comfortable with the ball facing the basket, something that I think he needs to consistently add to his arsenal if he wants to take the next step as a serious offensive threat.

“I like to run the court, rebound, play aggressive. That’s my game,” said Grant. “I’m definitely comfortable with shooting. My first instinct is to drive, but if they play off me I’m ready to shoot.”

Rakeem Christmas: Rakeem only had 2 points, and no one cares. He hit the glass hard, pulling down 8 rebounds in 30 minutes, and swatted away 4 Tar Heel shots. He and Keita combined to hold their own on the interior, and the Orange (24 points in the paint) were able to play the Heels (26) to a virtual standstill inside. And that’s realistically all we’re asking them to do, right?

Stay After School

James Michael McAdoo and SU's Early Team Defense: Just because I’m committed to this whole ‘report card’ gimmick, I’ll point out again that SU struggled out of the gate, which is not uncommon this season. McAdoo had 10 quick points in the first half, mostly from the high post, as it was clear UNC had a solid plan to attack SU’s 2-3 zone. And it worked… for about six minutes.

But as Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

After weathering UNC’s early run, the Orange really stepped up their D and controlled the rest of the game. They did a great job of moving up to cover the high post, whether it was McAdoo or Marcus Paige or someone else, and took away the mid-range options that were there for UNC early on. They also swarmed the defensive paint and backboard, outrebounding the larger and more athletic Tar Heels 41-35 while also blocking a whopping 9 shots and picking off 9 steals. Trevor Cooney had 5 of those steals, making up for his 4-17 shooting performance, 2-12 from three.

The 45 points UNC scored Saturday were the fewest in the past 15 years, and the fewest of the Roy Williams era. Somewhere, Kansas fans are smiling.

“It was definitely an adjustment,” said Grant, when asked about responding to McAdoo’s hot start. “We can’t let anyone just catch and shoot. We needed to push up and make it tough on him.”

“We were quick on our feet,” added Fair. We knew it was going to be a battle (defensively), and we basically controlled the game.” That they did.

Transition Offense: I just want to mention that SU only scored 3 fast break points for the entire game. That’s one reason why they only mustered 57 total, well below their 74 ppg average this season. It’s good that they can grind out these tough, low scoring wins, but life would be a lot easier if they could get out on the break and get an easy bucket once in a while. I’m just saying.

Final Grade: A-

Notes:

This was a fun game. It wasn’t the prettiest, but the Orange played hard against a big-name opponent who rolled in with some impressive wins (Kentucky, Michigan State, Louisville). The crowd was hot, and they fed off of the players (and vice-versa). It makes me wonder just how hyped everyone will be when Duke comes to town next month.

Tyler Ennis has a nice stat line. 10 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds. He did have 4 turnovers, twice as many as in any other game this season. But if that’s the worst thing he does all year…

Boeheim said after the game that Dajuan Coleman, who did not play, is “looking better, more mobile”. He said they’ll have to keep watching him in practice, but didn’t offer any insight on if or when he’ll get back into a game.

When a reporter asked about Tyler Roberson’s lack of playing time, Boeheim seemed more than a little annoyed. He went to the old ‘you do your job, I’ll do mine’ routine, and said if he can’t get the coach of his kid’s youth team to listen to him, then he certainly isn’t going to listen to any of us. All right then.

C.J. Fair speaks to the media following the game Saturday afternoon.

For a more detailed recap and commentary on the game and Jim Boeheim’s postgame news conference, visit my Twitter feed by clicking here.
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