Heel Tough Blog: Syracuse Recap
For the second straight game, Carolina went on the road and came away with a win as they took down Syracuse 72-68 last night. Had Carolina lost, it was going to be a hard pill to swallow as they lead for over 36 minutes, yet with under 1:30, left they found themselves down 68-66. Pete Nance would draw a foul, and go to the foul line for two shots, making the first, and missing the second. On the second miss, Syracuse failed to corral the rebound, and Joseph Girard III saved the ball right to Pete Nance, who laid the ball in for a 69-68 lead. Carolina would full-court press on the next possession, and as a Syracuse player was driving the lane, R.J. Davis stepped in for a charge, that resulted in him taking an elbow to the face, resulting in a flagrant 1 foul. Caleb Love would make 3 of 4 free throws, to give Carolina the final margin of 72-68, and a 10th win in 12 games.
The Tar Heels have played some physical games this season, and that was as physical a game yet. R.J. Davis left the game twice after multiple collisions, yet this team was tough enough to prevail. Carolina shot 45% from the field and was able to overcome shooting just 37% in the second half. Meanwhile, Syracuse shot 51% from the field, 44% from behind the arc, and even won the rebounding margin 35-30, but it wasn’t enough. Pete Nance led UNC in scoring with 21 points, on 6-17 shooting. He also grabbed four rebounds, and handed out 3 assists, as he played the entire game. Armando Bacot added 18 points on 8-15 shooting, along with 8 rebounds, as his foul trouble kept him from another double-double. Caleb Love played one of his better games in recent memory, scoring 15 points on 4-7 shooting, as he started the game 3-3 from behind the arc. With Puff Johnson not available once again, Hubert Davis shortened his bench, as Tyler Nickel’s 12 minutes off the bench were the most by a Tar Heel reserve.
This game felt very similar to the contest at Louisville that was overly physical, and hotly contested, yet Carolina was able to come away with the win. The Orange entered last night, tied with Carolina at 6-3 in the ACC, but playing for their NCAA Tournament lives. Jim Boeheim had his team ready to go, but Carolina’s toughness and experience were too much, and that allowed Carolina to prevail.
After losing games at the likes of Indiana, Virginia Tech, and Pittsburgh, Carolina has now won at Louisville and Syracuse, and it appears that this team is trending in the right direction, which is desperately needed as the schedule only gets harder in February. Here’s what to take away from last night’s win at Syracuse:
Pete Nance: Carolina obviously doesn’t win the game without Pete Nance, and hopefully this game starts to bring about a more consistent play from him. Nance has really struggled to find his way during his time in Chapel Hill, despite averaging double figures scoring all season long. Nance was the focal point of Carolina attacking the 2-3 zone, as he was planted at the ACC logo at the foul line, and he operated from there as a scorer and a passer.
Assists: Carolina assisted on 20 of its 26 made baskets, for an assist percentage of 76%, the highest of the season. In the first half, UNC assisted on 14 of its 16 made baskets, which set the tone. Both Caleb Love and R.J. Davis recorded 5 assists each, and Armando Bacot added four. During their times at UNC, the Tar Heels are 19-2 when Davis records 5 assists, including 7-0 this season. As for Love, Carolina is 5-1 this season when he hands out at least 5 assists, and 26-3 during his Tar Heel career.
Turnovers/Points Off Turnovers: Carolina’s defense continues to play well, as they held their opponent to under 70 points for the sixth straight game. Last night, it was their ability to turn Syracuse over, as they committed 17 turnovers, which led to 21 points off turnovers. They were able to do that without deploying the full-court press until the final moments of the game.
Caleb Love: If Love starts playing more consistent basketball, last night may be the turning point for him individually. Love made his first three, three-pointers, and foul trouble limited his time on the floor in the first half. He was patient, and that was evident by shooting only 7 shots, yet confident, as he made 4 of them. His shot looked more fluid than at any other point so far, and he was a big part of the win.
Free Throw Shooting: After going 36-39 from the foul line on Saturday against NC State, UNC was just 14-23 from the charity stripe last night. Carolina was able to overcome that, because the Orange only shot 3 free throws, going 2-3. Pete Nance led the way, going 8-10 from the foul line.
Injuries: Puff Johnson didn’t play night as he was dealing with knee soreness that kept him out of the NC State game as well. R.J. Davis left the game two separate but left for good after getting that elbow to the face in the closing minutes of the game. With some much-needed time off, hopefully, this team can get healthy for the stretch run.
Up Next: The Tar Heels don’t play again until Wednesday, February 1st when they host Pittsburgh in Chapel Hill. The game will start at 7 PM on the ACC Network.