The Syracuse Orange entered Monday’s game with a mountain to climb to just return to the bubble conversation for the NCAA tournament. Despite getting out-rebounded 53 to 33 by the North Carolina Tar Heels, a plus-8 turnover margin and key contributors from the bench helped the Orange take a 14-point lead in the second half.
A series of injuries, foul outs, and late Syracuse turnovers brought UNC back into the game, but the Orange did just enough to escape the Carrier Dome with a 72-70 victory. Here’s our takeaways from a much-needed win:
Hello, old friend
Because a myriad of other issues have cropped up within the Orange program, we haven’t talked much about a subject that led to a lot of Syracuse’s early losses: shot selection. For the first 10 minutes of Monday’s game, it seemed like that would be the prevailing trend among the Orange offense. Syracuse settled for multiple, contested jump shots early in the shot clock and went one-and-done more often than not because of UNC’s massive rebounding advantage.
Things then turned around as Buddy Boeheim got free for open threes and Syracuse started to move the pass to create open looks. When the Orange didn’t look for jumpers, they attacked the basket, which the Tar Heel forwards couldn’t effectively defend even with their size advantage. Syracuse also took advantage of the 20 UNC turnovers to take smart shots in transition, scoring 28 points off of turnovers and 20 fastbreak points.
Syracuse got smarter with its shot selection and that allowed the lead to bloom over North Carolina.
Accelerating the two-year project
Jim Boeheim quickly brought Alan Griffin out of the game 3:26 into the contest and brough in Jeese Edwards. That substitution proved to be critical to Syracuse’s success as his defensive presence started to change the game for the Orange. Even though the Tar Heels out-rebounded Syracuse by 20, Edwards pulled down eight rebounds, tying his career high. He seemed a lot more comfortable coming down hard with the ball and not bobbling his rebounds like we’ve seen earlier in the year, and the rebounding deficit could’ve been much more pronounced without his presence in the paint.
Edwards also picked up four steals and got six points in 24 minutes of play. You could argue that the game started to swing back towards UNC’s favor when Edwards fouled out with 6:11 to go in the second half. The Tar Heels seemed to be more comfortable returning to the paint without Edwards patrolling that area. Boeheim said that he thought Edwards would need two years on campus to fully realized his potential, and we’re starting to see the hidden potential that hasn’t been given the opportunity to develop.
“They’ve been clamoring in Central New York...”
...for Jim Boeheim to play Kadary Richmond more, as Anish Shroff said on Saturday. Orange fans got their wish on Monday as the freshman got 31 minutes of playing time, a career high for him. Immediately his defense and play-making skills were on display. His passing was crucial to set up the open shooting opportunities that built Syracuse’s lead. Richmond ran the floor well in transition to set up the fastbreak passes and his drives in the lane remain strong. He had a career-high nine assists to lead the Orange.
Defensively, Richmond continues to impress as he continued to flash his pick-pocket ability with four steals. He also grabbed three rebounds and played a big part in shutting down UNC from beyond the three-point line. His substitution due to injury with 3:51 left in the half also played a big role in UNC’s comeback attempt as the Orange missed his passing to break the Tar Heel press and his defense to deny easy and quick drives to the rim from UNC’s guards.
Edwards and Richmond both played critical roles to Syracuse’s success against North Carolina. Syracuse fans may get their wish to see them on the court more as the season winds down.