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North Carolina 72, Syracuse 68: Orange come up short in home thriller versus Tar Heels

Syracuse fell to 13-8 on the season after losing another close game.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Heartbroken. Yet again.

Everyone take a deep breath. Yes, the end of this game made absolutely no sense. Let’s break it down and sort through all the insanity.

After trailing for most of the game in its home matchup against the North Carolina Tar Heels, Joe Girard hit a three with 53 seconds left to take a 68-66 lead over UNC. For a brief moment, Syracuse looked like it could pull away.

However, the Orange fell short due to costly mistakes and some momentum-swinging plays that ultimately led Syracuse (13-8, 6-4) to a demoralizing 72-68 home loss to North Carolina (15-6, 7-3) in a prime time ACC matchup.

It was a back-and-forth affair featuring three ties and six different lead changes, and despite the Orange’s efficient performance offensively, North Carolina capitalized when it mattered most.

Syracuse was down by as much as nine points (15-6) early with North Carolina’s offense staying hot. The Tar Heels targeted Joe Girard’s side of the zone early, providing better passing angles for UNC’s Armando Bacot and Pete Nance in the paint or Caleb Love on the perimeter. North Carolina’s offense shot out of the gate, shooting 3/4 from three early and taking advantage of extra help defense in the paint from Syracuse’s guards. The Tar Heels also picked apart the Orange’s 2-3 zone defense early with its passing, with UNC’s first nine baskets coming off of assists.

But, the Orange kept things close with Joe Girard scoring 10 points on 4/5 shooting to keep Syracuse’s deficit in single-digits with a little over 10 minutes left in the first half.

Offensively, Girard and Chris Bell (7 points on 3/3 shooting) powered the Orange to 19 of the team’s first 23 points, while Judah Mintz showed his value defensively with two early steals and two drawn charges even as he struggled to produce on offense early in the first half. Syracuse cut North Carolina’s lead down to three points with just over four minutes left to go before halftime courtesy of this finish inside by Benny Williams:

Mintz started to get going offensively towards the end of the first half as Syracuse trailed 38-34 at halftime. It was a battle between the two offenses in the first half, as both programs shot 52% from the field and over 44% from three. 14 of UNC’s first 16 baskets were off of assists, while Syracuse kept the contest close by forcing the Tar Heels into 9 first-half turnovers while staying strong on the glass (15-14 rebound advantage for the Orange).

The first half also featured a matchup between a trio of scorers from both teams. For Syracuse, the Girard-Mintz-Bell triad combined for 26 of the Orange’s 34 first-half points as Edwards (4 points, 2/3 shooting, and 3 turnovers) struggled to get going. For UNC, Bacot led the way with 12 points on 6/10 shooting as he, along with Nance and Caleb Love, combined for 29 of the Tar Heels’ 38 first-half points.

Syracuse started off strong in the second half, scoring on back-to-back fastbreak opportunities capped off by this slam from Bell to tie the game for the first time since tip-off:

The Orange briefly took a 42-41 lead over the Tar Heels with 17 minutes left to go, its first lead all game, powered by more aggressive play from Jesse Edwards and some improved defense against UNC’s electric offense.

After the Orange stormed back, the Tar Heels caught fire on a 10-2 run in the middle of the half to briefly retake a double-digit lead. Yet again, Syracuse stormed back, only trailing 59-57 with under eight minutes to go as two tough three-point makes by Bell kept the Orange’s chances of winning alive.

From there, it was a back-and-forth contest filled with a handful of lead changes and momentum-swinging plays in the last couple of minutes. Trailing 66-65 with 90 seconds left to go, this top-of-the-key three from Girard gave the Orange a two-point lead with 53 seconds left.

Unfortunately, the Orange’s effort wasn’t enough, with UNC making big-time plays down the stretch to ultimately give Syracuse the loss in the Dome.

Girard (18 points), Mintz (17 points), and Bell (15 points) all scored in double-figures for Syracuse, while Edwards finished with 8 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 blocks. The big man duo of Nance and Bacot combined for 39 points, while Love chipped in 15 points.

As they say: it’s on to the next one.


What are your thoughts on the Orange’s performance against the Tar Heels? What happened at the end of the game? How do you make sense of the end for this game? Leave your comments down below.