Celebrities thrusted the Syracuse Orange into the national spotlight three times this year in ways the Orange themselves couldn’t.
A once-heralded senior day/John Wallace jersey retirement got diminished by both North Carolina’s record and Syracuse’s NIT-bound season, so three stars were recruited for this one. Tom Brady and fellow Patriots legend Julian Edelman arrived in Central New York to watch Pats fans Jim and Buddy Boeheim. Jimmy Fallon came along and won over the Carrier Dome crowd.
The Orange have now lost three times this season in overwhelming fashion in front of the Brady bundle, Odell Beckham Jr. and Carmelo Anthony.
The 5-13 North Carolina Tar Heels torched it from the middle, corners and top behind overwhelming freshman Cole Anthony — who scored 25 points on 7-of-11 three-point shooting. Anthony tore his meniscus in December, placing his status in doubt for the season if he wanted to fully ensure his first round selection in the 2020 NBA Draft. He instead pushed to return for February as his Tar Heels sunk to the bottom of the ACC. UNC has since secured its worst season ever in ACC play.
Even as Anthony and them lost in his return against Boston College, he scored 26 points signaling that the Orange’s game to close February would be against a different caliber UNC squad than its record indicated. Saturday marked Roy Williams’ ninth straight victory over Boeheim, now 9-1 against him in the ACC.
No offense makes the Orange’s zone look less special. That was enough to scare us in spite of their record. Only Duke surpassed North Carolina’s 92 points against the zone this year.
To the final takeaways under this roof.
1. This defense is broken beyond repair
Pittsburgh’s sub-300th ranked offense had something to do with the Orange allowing only 49 points on Wednesday. No miraculous change occurred on that end. Georgia Tech still shot 40% from three against Syracuse one week ago.
No lapses compared to the ones Syracuse suffered against North Carolina. The Orange’s latest turnover surge continued in the first half, as SU threw possessions away five times on 10 possessions — three coming through aimless drives into offensive fouls.
North Carolina drove the live ball ones in transition for a 14-0 run and lead they never relinquished. Williams’ offense methodically picked apart the zone throughout the other portions of the game.
Anthony shot over the guards. Leaky Black dished six assists and scored eight points from the middle of the zone. Garrison Brooks scored 26 points catching passes on the back line. Christian Keeling drilled seven shots near the corners for another 18. UNC drilled 51.6% of its field goals, 42.3% of its threes and 88.2% of its free throws.
Boeheim’s press emerged early and failed mightily in the second half. North Carolina shot 8-for-11 out of halftime, drilling five buckets in about two minutes to reach 21 points within five minutes. Through 29 games, the Orange have allowed 43 points in 42 presses that ended in a shot, ranking in the 20th percentile.
2. Bourama Sidibe playing the best basketball of his SU career
Anyone excited to see Sidibe start at center again next season after this week?
Between 17 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks, Sidibe put the ball on the floor from the corner for the only drive I can remember from his three-year career with the Orange. He got fouled rising up to dunk at the rim, where he drilled 7-for-8 at the line.
Wednesday might’ve been Sidibe’s best game with the Orange and he topped it Saturday. Boeheim stood impressed with him at the podium again and Sidibe used four fouls effectively to stay in the game. With Marek Dolezaj largely a no-show through his own foul trouble, that became crucial.
Still, in one sequence Dolezaj picked up his fourth foul 50 feet from the rim. Sidibe immediately fouled for his third before the ref handed UNC the ball underneath to in-bound. That problem isn’t going away for him.
Joseph Girard III looked to Sidibe early to create a three-point play inside. He created four second-chance opportunities chasing offensive rebounds in the first half. Instead of waiting for plays to come to him, he proactively chased the ball and the bucket.
He stopped the bleeding during North Carolina’s run early in the second half by chasing a loose rebound while UNC tried to create a third-chance possession. He secured it and fed it to Elijah Hughes on the run, who scored a three-point play.
Sidibe’s two blocks and three-point play later in the half helped keep the Orange within 12 late, but even an extra few baskets from him isn’t helping a team dismantled at the other end.
3. Hurt bodies and souls
The Orange entered uncertain if Buddy Boeheim would play until shortly before game time. He rebounded to propel Syracuse back into a game that was fading from them before halftime. His two-point jumper and layup while trailing 33-17 began an 11-0 Orange run before halftime.
Boeheim drilled a deep three on the wing, a pair of free throws and another deep jumper as part of his 11-point burst in the final five minutes that made it a 36-32 game at half. He only hit two jumpers in the second half as North Carolina jumped all over the zone. Brycen Goodine played for Girard instead and Boeheim returned to his typical 37 minutes.
The wings hurt Syracuse defensively more than the guards in this one though. Anthony routinely hit Keeling and Brandon Robinson along the sidelines for open buckets. Robinson received a practice three in rotation that he missed and became the aforementioned Sidibe assist.
As for North Carolina, its brutal season of injuries continued. Armando Bacot played only nine minutes before succumbing to a right ankle injury. Keeling hurt his left late, but by that point UNC had the game in hand.
UNC pulled the Orange into the deep end of the ACC, with the teams that only have an ACC Tournament championship left as hope to make the NCAA Tournament.