|Posted on February 21, 2018 at 9:10 PM|
Article by Dan Tortora
The Syracuse Orange began their match-up with the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC)'s third-best team by in-conference record, the North Carolina Tar Heels, by turning the ball over after winning the tip.
That turnover led to an immediate field goal by junior forward Luke Maye to give North Carolina the first lead of the game. Syracuse junior point guard Frank Howard would score the team's first field goal of the game on their second possession to place the Orange ahead for the first time in the game, at 3-2, before graduate guard Cameron Johnson would answer right back to take the lead and place it in the hands of the Tar Heels, at 4-3.
Syracuse sophomore shooting guard Tyus Battle got out in transition to receive the pass and sped off, knowing that the Orange needed a boost and he gave it to them with a slam that made it an 11-7 deficit for the Orange.
Freshman forward Sterling Manley had an immediate response, however, with a layup that placed the Tar Heels ahead of the Orange, 13-7.
Syracuse would head to the rim after beginning the game 2-for-13, making three straight shots at the bucket, the first by true freshman forward Marek Dolezaj and the following two by Battle to bring their deficit to six, 19-13.
Junior point guard Frank Howard would give the Orange four straight possessions with a field goal when he connected from long range to bring the score to 21-16, as the Orange edged closer.
Battle would grab two at the charity stripe to follow, bringing Syracuse within one possession, down 21-18.
At that moment and at 23-20, the Orange were looking to tie it up but the Tar Heels had other plans, managing to connect on field goals at the most opportune times to keep the Orange at bay, with Maye and then senior guard Joel Berry II making shots that took the Orange away from a one-possession game.
North Carolina was like the person in an argument that always wants to have the last word: Dolezaj hit a jumper by the free-throw line and Maye answered with one of his own. Then, Brissett made a shot from beyond the arc and Berry came down the court and did the same thing, all leading to North Carolina achieving an eight-point advantage, 33-25, with 3:16 before halftime.
Out of a break in the action, Theo Pinson cashed in on a check sent from long range, giving the Tar Heels a double-digit lead, 36-25, and elevating North Carolina to a 50% performance from three-point range, at 5-for-10.
But right before the half, Syracuse received a little hint of momentum when Brissett took an inbounds pass, dribbled once, and launched a three to beat the halftime buzzer, getting the deficit under double-digits for the Orange at the break, down 41-32.
Howard attained the next two buckets for the Orange, hitting a three before the shot clock expired and following with a layup to advance the Orange to a five-point deficit, 45-40.
Less than four minutes into the second half, Howard had already outdone his point total of the entire first half, with seven points at the 16:33 mark after accumulating six points over the length of the first half.
Brissett would make two free throws to close the gap to three for Syracuse, behind 49-46, and Battle would do it again on a layup that made it 51-48, but North Carolina would do what they did all game, respond.
With 7:55 to play, the Orange were behind by seven, 66-59, after Battle scored six straight points.
With just under four minutes to go, Howard and Battle combined for another string of six straight points, with Howard making both free throws, followed by Battle achieving back-to-back field goals to tie the game at 74 apiece at the 3:07 mark.
With 1:42 to play, junior center Paschal Chukwu turned the ball over after grabbing a key offensive rebound and Berry finished his steal with a layup at the other end to give the advantage back to North Carolina, 76-74, with 1:39 remaining.
Howard elevated for a three that would give the Orange their first lead since 3-2, but it is too long and Berry, instead, would make two free throws at the other end to go ahead 78-74.
Syracuse would get the ball back, get blocked, and miss the following jumper, and North Carolina would run out the final 2.9 seconds for the win.
Despite tying the game at 74 late, the Orange would never hold the lead for the final 38 minutes and 51 seconds.
Battle (26) and Howard (23) combined to score 49 of Syracuse's 74 points, but the comeback never came completely back for Syracuse.
On 16 separate occasions, the Tar Heels would score immediately after the Orange put points on the board, keeping distance between themselves and their adversary no matter how much pressure the Orange put on them in attempts to come back.
That was the X-Factor in the game: North Carolina's ability to face the threat head on and respond efficiently time and time again.
Pinson and Berry would combine to score more than half of the Tar Heels' points, with the duo amounting 41 of the 78 points scored, Pinson finishing with 23 and Berry with 18.
With the outcome, the Orange now have double-digit losses at 18-10 overall and are under .500 again, now at 7-8.
The Tar Heels look to remain in the conference's top three, elevating to 22-7 overall and 11-5 in the ACC.