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Three takeaways from Syracuse basketball’s 72-68 loss to North Carolina

Syracuse goes back to the drawing board after suffering a humbling defeat at home to North Carolina.

North Carolina v Syracuse Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

Despite unearthing an inspired effort, the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball couldn’t quite climb out of the hole it dug itself into, falling to the North Carolina Tar Heels 72-68 in heartbreaking fashion on Tuesday night.

Syracuse led late and looked poised for a marquee victory, but the mistake-making began in crunch time when Syracuse failed to box out on the back end of a Pete Nance missed free throw. Joe Girard—despite a valiant effort on an 18 point, 5 assist and 4 rebound night—tried to save a loose ball under his own basket and Nance stood in as recipient in the form of a late lead.

North Carolina didn’t apologize for this, accepting the gift and taking advantage of Syracuse’s shortcomings as well as a few beneficial whistles. Phantom foul calls on Jesse Edwards limited him in the second half and an untimely flagrant coupled with two charges on Judah Mintz were too much to overcome as North Carolina shot 20 more free throws on the game than Syracuse.

“It’s unusual,” Jim Boeheim said of the foul shooting disparity.

After North Carolina took the lead late, Mintz committed a charge with a flagrant which continued Syracuse’s knock-kneed play down the stretch. From there, Caleb Love made three of four free throws for North Carolina and pushed this game out of reach.

Despite winning the rebounding battle 35-30, Syracuse withered down the stretch and North Carolina was able to get out of Dodge.

To the takeaways.

Syracuse struggling to close

Perhaps what’s telling of a young team is Syracuse’s inability to close tight games down the stretch. The Orange have struggled in late game scenarios with a few exceptions (see: Mintz’s game-winning layup at Notre Dame).

Missed opportunities in the non-conference include a chance to beat St. John’s in regulation and costly mistakes in the final minute against Bryant at home. The Orange had a chance to complete the comeback against Pittsburgh at home and nearly took down Miami in Coral Gables if it weren’t for a few untimely turnovers and forced shots.

Syracuse is now 3-4 in games decided by four points or less. These are the kinds of losses that stay with players.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 24 North Carolina at Syracuse Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Starters do the heavy lifting

Syracuse’s bench has been solid in ACC play, but Boeheim had an on-brand performance from his starters against UNC. It’s what one would expect from a Syracuse-coached team. The starting five scored 62 of Syracuse’s 68 total points and played the bulk of the minutes.

Maliq Brown contributed an important seven rebounds and Symir Torrence provided some good first half minutes off the bench, but by and large the starters did the work with four of five starters logging over 30 minutes. Syracuse’s starting backcourt combined for 35 points and Chris Bell once again shot the ball well, finishing with 15 points. Edwards had eight points and seven rebounds before fouling out in the final minute.

Close, but no cigar

Syracuse has hung tough with better, more experienced teams of late but still can’t quite close the deal. Such is life with a team still in its salad days. Mintz looked ready to take Syracuse home and key buckets down the stretch signified his growth as a player, but a few costly missed shots compounded with the missed box out and saved ball under the own basket proved fatal in this matchup.

There were missed shots and, as such, missed opportunities. But the result still stands: Syracuse is devoid of quality wins.

The season isn’t lost by any stretch, but it sure is getting late.