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Monday March 8th

Analysis: Three takeaways from UNC basketball's win over Syracuse

<p>UNC men's basketball head coach Roy Williams speaks to the press after the game against Virginia in the Smith Center on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. UNC fell 64-62 against UVA.</p>
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UNC men's basketball head coach Roy Williams speaks to the press after the game against Virginia in the Smith Center on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. UNC fell 64-62 against UVA.

The North Carolina men's basketball season is nearly over, with just two games left in the regular season plus an appearance in the ACC Tournament. 

Following the team's 92-79 win over Syracuse on Saturday evening, here are three takeaways about where the Tar Heels are at after finding a groove the last few games. 

Christian Keeling is for real

The graduate transfer guard who was expected to provide spark-plug offense when he first arrived at UNC is finally making good on what was asked of him. 

Over the past eight games, Keeling has reached double figures in scoring six times, including a UNC career-high 18 points against the Orange. In that span, he's shot 50 percent or better from the floor six times as well, and has shown a consistent ability to start hitting threes. 

It might be too late in the game to change things heavily for UNC, but for the next two games and the ACC Tournament, the Tar Heels now have a proven threat to score off the dribble when Cole Anthony sits. 

Keeling isn't much of a playmaker (he's never recorded more than two assists in a game for UNC), but his scoring threat can bail out an offense that has struggled most of the year. Him staying comfortable in his role will be big if UNC wants a shot at taking down Duke in the last game of the regular season. 

Balance between Anthony and Brooks

UNC has struggled all year finding the right balance between its two stars, Anthony and Garrison Brooks. The last time the Tar Heels won two in a row, it was when Anthony was out with injury, and Brooks was clearly the No. 1 option for the team. 

When Anthony came back, things looked disjointed, and the team struggled to consistently feed Brooks in the post. 

Against Syracuse, the two stars gelled perfectly together, combining for 51 points on 17-27 shooting. Anthony did what he needed to do to take advantage of the infamous Syracuse zone defense: push the pace, move without the ball and refrain from the ill-advised shots he occasionally took in games past. 

The first-year guard registered seven assists and only two turnovers, and coordinated an offense that had 25 assists on 33 made baskets, the second-highest assist total for UNC all year. 

This version of Anthony is the one UNC needs if it wants to beat Duke — it was the version they had for most of the game the last time out against the Blue Devils. Anthony has proven in spurts that he can be more than a scorer, and the last couple of games have proven he can effectively manage a team the way Roy Williams needs him to. 

Finally making some daggum shots

Roy Williams said it best himself after the game: everything looks better when the ball goes in the basket. Making shots has been the biggest challenge for UNC the entire season, with only one or two reliable shotmakers off the dribble and only one consistent post player in Brooks.

Against the Orange, though, the Tar Heels shot 51.6 percent from the floor, 42.3 percent from three and 88.2 percent from the free throw line. Anthony had one of the best long-distance shooting performances of the year, going 7-11 from beyond the arc, while both Keeling and Brandon Robinson chipped in two threes of their own. 

UNC has been plagued with issues all year, but shooting performances like this are what can continue any potential late-season turnaround.

@bg_keyes

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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