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Syracuse men’s basketball ‘out-toughed’ in road romp to North Carolina

Syracuse goes back to the drawing board after suffering a landslide defeat at North Carolina, dropping its fifth game to a ranked opponent this season.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 13 Syracuse at North Carolina Photo by David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team suffered its largest margin of defeat this season, falling 103-67 to a veteran North Carolina on Saturday afternoon. It was the most points an opponent has scored against Syracuse since Indiana scored 110 against the Orange in 2021-22, but that game went into double overtime. Syracuse was beaten in regulation in nearly every aspect of the game.

It was simply “out-toughed” by the Tar Heels.

“They were tougher than us. They went after it,” Head coach Adrian Autry said. The Orange came out flat in the early going and North Carolina took advantage. The Tar Heels jumped out in front in the first few minutes and never looked back, controlling the lead for over 38 minutes.

“They came right out from the beginning and set the tone and we just could never get our rhythm and bounce back. That had all to do with the way they played. I thought it was the first time that we were kind of on our heels all year,” Autry said.

North Carolina was on its toes while the Orange was on its heels and as expected from a North Carolina coached team, there was nothing flat-footed about the Heels on Saturday. North Carolina got out in transition and rebounded the ball at a high level. Syracuse surrendered a 53-30 deficit on the glass. North Carolina scored 58 points in the paint and scored 22 second-chance points on 19 offensive rebounds.

“They just were tougher than us,” Starling said. “It doesn’t get more simple than that.”

Syracuse v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Toward the end of the first half and for the entirety of the second half, Syracuse went to the 2-3 zone to try to change the tenor of the game. It was the first time in Autry’s tenure that he’s played zone for an entire half. For the most part, Jim Boeheim’s trademark 2-3 zone has been used sparingly by Autry, usually reserved for out-of-bounds defensive sets.

The zone wasn’t worse than man defense in this game, but if the zone had any success at all it was only temporary. North Carolina hung 103 points on Syracuse. The 2-3 zone, Autry said, was in response to how well North Carolina was playing. He thought zone would be an option for this matchup but didn’t sound like a coach who planned on playing it for the length of time Syracuse did.

“Not as much as we had to do today,” He said in a frank tone. “I thought the second half we cut it down to about 15 and we had some momentum. Just again, too many turnovers. Costly turnovers.”

Once again Syracuse turned it over 17 times on Tobacco Road. Much like the Duke game, North Carolina made the Orange pay by turning those turnovers into 23 points. Too many times this young Syracuse team gambles after missed shots or turnovers in attempt to get the ball right back. Those types of gambles won’t work against good teams and it allows them to get out and score in transition.

Syracuse v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The post-game mood was predictably low-spirited from the Syracuse side. Players spoke in hushed tones in the locker room from the bowels of the Dean E. Smith Center. Autry tried to remind his team that this would only count as one loss and that there was plenty of more basketball ahead.

“Every team has some bad games in a season,” Autry told his team. “One game doesn’t define a season. Whether it’s one big win or one big loss. We just got to move forward, we got to flush this out. We’ll revisit it a little bit and then move on.”

With a blowout loss of this nature, would Syracuse even bother to watch film or just flush this game and move on to Tuesday and focus on Pittsburgh?

“No we’re definitely going to look at film still,” Brown said.

Starling said he would watch film individually before the team gets together for its film session to understand what he needs to do. What’s clear is that North Carolina is currently on top of the ACC and looks ready to compete for a Final Four — maybe even a National Championship. The Heels have a chance to be ranked No. 1 come Monday after a wild week in college basketball.

Syracuse, meantime, is still in year one of the Autry era. This is a process and most of these young players are still just sophomores. Syracuse can compete in the ACC but it will take some more time for this team to get ready to compete against the top programs in the country.

Of course, it wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the game, but not having 7-foot-4 center Naheem McLeod to go up against Armando Bacot didn’t help matters. McLeod wasn’t in the building for Syracuse’s defeat, missing his second game with a right foot injury.

“Nothing definitive,” Autry said of McLeod’s status. “We should know something soon about whether he’s able to move forward or not.”