With only seven players available, the Syracuse Orange women’s basketball team saw its six-game winning streak end with a 79-43 blowout loss to the No. 24 North Carolina Tar Heels on Thursday in Chapel Hill.
Four Orange players, including usual starters Alaysia Styles and Naje Murray, did not make the trip because of COVID protocols. If Syracuse had been without another player, it wouldn’t have been able to play, per ACC rules.
Alaina Rice and Nyah Wilson, neither of whom average more than 16 minutes per game, found themselves in Vonn Read’s starting lineup. Ava Irvin and Julianna Walker, reserves who usually only see mop-up duty, found themselves thrust into important minutes against a top-25 opponent. Every Orange starter played for at least 30 minutes.
With Christianna Carr having to play the five at six-foot-one, the Orange faced even more of an uphill battle in the post than usual. Without Styles, Syracuse’s only real presence down low, the Tar Heels clobbered the Orange inside. UNC outscored the Orange 50-10 in the paint and outrebounded them 63-37.
Running a five-out offense for the whole game, the Orange (8-5, 1-2) shot just 12-of-57 (21 percent) from the floor and only 15 percent (four-for-27) in the second half, as tired legs got the better of the team. Syracuse only hit five-of-23 from three and struggled to 23 turnovers.
A dismal second half that included a nearly 12-minute Orange field goal drought ensured the Orange’s lowest scoring output since February 2, 2020, in a loss at Virginia.
Despite being saddled with foul trouble, Teisha Hyman led Syracuse with 13 points on (shooting). Rice was the next highest scorer with 10, and Chrislyn Carr added nine.
The Tar Heels (12-0, 2-0) got whatever they wanted inside despite only making four-of-25 attempts from long range. Tellingly, they made 21 of 28 layups and shot 50 percent from inside the arc.
UNC’s depth showed with an incredibly balanced scoring effort. Five Tar Heels scored in double digits, with Alyssa Ustby and Deja Kelly both finishing with a team-high 12.
Christianna Carr opened the scoring on the first possession of the game but the Orange had a tough time consistently finding the hoop. UNC led 19-10 after the first quarter. Carr cut the deficit to 25-19 with a layup with 6:54 left in the half but inside scoring from the Tar Heels helped them build a 37-25 advantage at the break.
In the first 20 minutes, Syracuse shot better from three (four-of-13) than from inside the arc (four-of-17) and only managed a 27 percent clip overall, along with 11 turnovers.
More giveaways at the beginning of the second half helped Carolina to a 10-2 run to extend its lead to 47-27 with five minutes left in the third. The Orange fought and scrapped but did not have the depth or the size to stem the tide.
Eight straight points from Kelly highlighted an 11-1 Tar Heels run that made it 58-31 after three quarters.
With two double-digit scorers left at home, the focus was more on getting out of Chapel Hill instead of making a comeback. Orange fans probably shouldn’t look into this loss too much. Syracuse was in the game at the half and continued to play hard even as it became a blowout.
The Orange could have claimed they didn’t have enough players to face the Tar Heels in hopes of getting the game rescheduled. Instead, they were honest about the situation and went down to North Carolina to take their lumps.
Syracuse will hope to stay healthy between now and January 2, when they are scheduled to host Florida State. If Orange loses another player to health and safety protocols, they risk entering a pause. For now, tip-off against the Seminoles is set for 2 p.m. on Sunday.