Fast forward two years, and Syracuse could win this game if these rosters stayed intact. But the No. 10 Tar Heels‚Äô experience was too much for the Orange to handle in SU‚Äôs 78-74 loss to the defending champs.
Credit Syracuse. It seemed like a loss was a foregone conclusion at the end of the first half. UNC was just starting to heat up from outside and was getting anything it wanted in the interior.
Guided by Theo Pinson, the Tar Heels shot 55 percent from the field in the first half. That efficiency was largely because of Pinson‚Äôs ability to not just get a quality look for himself en route to a career high 23 points, but his passing was superb as well. The senior also dished out 7 assists and seemingly silenced every Orange run. It was reminiscent of how Nigel Hayes dissected the Orange zone for Wisconsin last season.
But even when the Orange seemed like it had flatlined, it found a way to revive itself. Oshae Brissett collected 3 of his 17 points on a buzzer-beater to close out the first half. That was the difference between a single and double-digit deficit at halftime.
Syracuse kept UNC at arms length the entire second half in hopes of finding some sort of run of its own.
Then it happened. Flashbacks of the Syracuse comeback against Virginia danced in Orange fans‚Äô heads. North Carolina was trying too hard for transition buckets instead of milking the clock. That rushed the Tar Heels on offense and led to some missed easy baskets. Syracuse chipped away off of those quasi-turnovers and tied the game at 74.
But then the mistakes came. A misrun play at the end by Paschal Chukwu. Poor shot choices from Brissett and Frank Howard. Being weak with the basketball. It all piled up in the final two minutes. And those mistakes simply cannot be made against a team of North Carolina‚Äôs caliber.
At times, there just was not that fourth dependable guy on offense for the Orange. Brissett, Howard and Tyus Battle combined for 66 of SU‚Äôs 74 points. They looked sluggish at times. And how can you blame them? All three are amongst the nation‚Äôs leaders in minutes played. In fact, the game program touted the trio on the cover as the ‚Äú40 Minute Men.‚Äù
Let‚Äôs face it, this UNC team proved it has Final Four potential tonight. The Heels responded to every single Orange run, and closed out SU in the final moments like the veteran bunch they are. But when you look at this Syracuse roster, it does not come close to matching up with a blue-blood like UNC. That is where you must credit the Orange. The team does not quit, no matter who the opponent is. Ever since joining the ACC, the Tar Heels have dominated the Orange. This did not seem like a team that could hang with a top 10 North Carolina team, but it surely defied that notion.