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Heel Tough Blog: Syracuse Recap

AP Photo

Seeking to secure back-to-back road wins, Carolina fell to the hands of Syracuse, 86-79, as Carolina has now lost three of the last five games. The Tar Heels entered tonight looking for a sweep of Syracuse, after blowing them out in Chapel Hill in January. Still, after falling behind 23-13 early in the first half, it was apparent that Carolina was going to have their work cut out for them, and fought an uphill battle most of the night. Judah Mintz led Syracuse with 25 points, on 8-11 shooting from the field, and 9-11 from the foul line. JJ Starling, Mintz’z backcourt mate, poured in 23 points, on 9-15 shooting. For the game, Syracuse shot a blistering 63% from the field, and 47% from behind the arc, and in the process became the second ACC team to score more than 80 points against UNC this season. 

After falling behind by double digits, Carolina battled back to take a brief lead, before going into the half tied at 42. Coming out of the locker room, Carolina wouldn’t make a field goal for the first five minutes, as a tied game at the half, became a nine-point deficit. Once again, Carolina would battle back, and take the lead, before a Syracuse prayer was answered, to push them back in the lead for good. 

R.J. Davis led Carolina with 19 points, as he was one of four UNC starters to score in double figures. Cormac Ryan had arguably his best game of the season, scoring 18 points, on 6-14 shooting. Meanwhile, Armando Bacot and Harrison Ingram produced double-doubles, but it wasn’t enough to help get Carolina over the top. UNC shot 48% from the field, and 44% from behind the arc, but turnovers did them in down the stretch, and took away any real chance of them leaving Syracuse with a win. 

After a hot start on the road in conference play, reality has set for the Tar Heels, and they are learning how hard it is to go on the road and win in today’s college basketball. The good news is that Carolina has four of their final six games down the stretch in Chapel Hill, but their untimely road woes will play a role in the race for the ACC title. 

  1. Defensive Regression: After emerging as the best defensive team in the ACC in January, Carolina has returned to the mean on that end of the floor, despite entering today as the sixth-ranked defense according to KenPom. As frustrating as the offensive execution was down the stretch, the fact that Carolina was even in the game was an accomplishment in itself, when you factor in Syracuse’s two best players combined to score 48 points, and as a team, they shot 63%. After falling behind by double digits in the first half, Hubert Davis went back to the full-court press that’s been so effective for UNC this season, but abandoned quickly. In the second half, they started blitzing either Mintz or Starling, but they were still able to get to their spots on the floor and make plays for themselves, or their teammates. 

  2. Zoned Out: Last year Syracuse led college basketball in zone possessions played, at 90%. This year that number is just 13%, but they played a lot of it against Carolina and found great success. Outside of when Elliot Cadeau was the player stationed at the foul line when trying to score against Syracuse’s zone, Carolina often settled for long perimeter jump shots, and even though they shot 44% from deep, they could never shoot Syraucse out of their zone, and make them guard them man to man. After tonight, it’s fair to say that Carolina will see a lot of zone moving forward until they prove how to properly attack that style of defense. 

  3. Turnovers: Syracuse entered the game leading the league in turnovers forced, and steals, and looked the part tonight, forcing 11 turnovers, including 10 steals, leading to 15 points off turnovers. What made the zone so dangerous under Jim Boeheim was how long the players were at the top, and on the wing, and the roster is still built that way, and they were able to impact the passing lanes all night long. In the final four minutes, Carolina turned it over three times, making it nearly impossible for one last rally. As great as Cormac Ryan was in the scoring department, he committed 5 turnovers himself, and that’s not something you expect from a six-year, 25 year old college basketball player. 

  4. Free Throws: Carolina was a healthy 9-11 from the foul line tonight, but the problem was that Syracuse was 18-25. That number might be a little bit of an outlier because Carolina was fouling down the stretch to try and extend the game, but it doesn’t matter. Instead of attacking the zone, Carolina settled for contested jump shots, and never got a relatively short Syracuse rotation into foul trouble. 

  5. Rebounding: After dispatching Syracuse on the glass back in January, 53-30, it was a much closer affair tonight, even with UNC winning the rebounding battle 31-23. Syracuse won the battle on the defensive glass 20-10, and while Carolina grabbed 13 offensive rebounds, they only converted them into 18 second-chance points. Given Syracuse’s shooting percentage, Carolina was constantly taking the ball out of the basket and didn’t have many opportunities to run off of misses and try to score before having to face the zone defense. 

Up Next: Carolina returns home on Saturday when they host Virginia Tech. That game is set to tip at 2 PM on the ACC Network.

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