BROOKLYN -- The Syracuse Orange’s success sat on fragile footing all season long. It was unlikely Jim Boeheim would bench his starters with one minute remaining in the last game of SU’s ACC Tournament run with even a hope of a bid on Selection Sunday. However slim, they still have some in spite of the team’s deficiencies that underwhelmed their greatest efforts.
Frank Howard turned the ball over seven times, Paschal Chukwu fouled out early in the second and Bourama Sidibe followed later. An abundance of free throw trips and transition openings were all North Carolina needed, winning 78-59 to end Syracuse’s time in Brooklyn after two days. The depth issue, haunting nearby all season, had reached its max level of impact on a game early on.
Tyus Battle opened much like he did the previous night, finding his spots on the floor and creating offense from them. He took a dump out from Marek Dolezaj on SU’s second possession and almost turned it into a leaping deep two. He’d hit a three on the left wing following two tight crossovers and two Frank Howard turnovers that fed into an early North Carolina lead.
Then he swung into creating, dumping to Dolezaj for a dunk as he drove to the right. He dished out to Howard on the left wing for three. A try at a floater around the rim just missed. Defensively, Paschal Chukwu stopped two drives inside but picked up two fouls in the first eight minutes, forcing Bourama Sidibe into early action.
Sterling Manley and Theo Pinson, catching second-level passes scored eight straight for North Carolina. After Oshae Brissett hit his first three attempt, the Tarheels cut off two Orange passes, Kenny Williams took Howard’s third turnover to the rack for a dunk and Pinson hit two more free throws. Brissett responded with a second three.
Theo Pinson continued to dig into the Orange on the interior. His offensive rebound allowed Luke Maye to finish a layup through Sidibe’s second foul. Howard turned the ball over a fourth time, and Pinson added two more points on a jumper to push UNC up eight.
That lead grew to 12, with Chukwu grabbing a third foul and Maye adding two more at the line. Howard’s fifth turnover created another layup for Cameron Johnson on the run, then two sets later he hit a three from Seventh Woods.
Before the half Manley took one more second-chance possession to the rim for a dunk, but Brissett salvaged a point on the left wing by hitting his fourth three with seconds remaining.
UNC rocketed out of halftime with Pinson and Johnson trading jumpers around a Joel Berry three. Chukwu fouled Pinson in the high post, the latter becoming the latest in a long line of menaces to the zone in that area, and shortly after fouled Maye to foul out and give the Tarheels two more trips to the line with 16 minutes left. He slammed his goggles on his side, stood to get confirmation and moped on his way to the bench.
Pinson added weight on top of that moment by swinging a pass to Williams in the corner for another three. With 15 remaining, UNC extended its lead to 18.
Berry and Johnson pushed them over 20, with Sidibe’s fourth foul only further flattening a game the Orange opened fairly well in.
SU wouldn’t flash back until eight minutes remained. Howard finished a floater, after he completed a three-point play. UNC sat without a bucket for over five minutes.
That opened a window, however small, for Cuse as Sidibe poured his 10th rebound back into the rim and Battle/Dolezaj added a pair of their own. UNC’s lead slithered down to 64-52.
The Orange grinded out possessions and worked all the way bakc to nine after Brissett grabbed and offensive rebound and fed Howard for two inside, then Battle drove for a three-point play at the rim.
Williams pushed the lead back to 14 in transition. Poured in a three-point play to send Sidibe to the bench with Chukwu and officially sent the Orange to Selection Sunday with a completely uncertain standing. They’ll watch fellow bubble-mates Notre Dame and Louisville cruise on to tomorrow in Brooklyn and wait.