Despite early domination in the paint, the North Carolina men's basketball team's post presence slipped away in its 72-70 Monday night loss against Syracuse.
At the onset of the game, UNC looked to establish itself inside offensively. The Tar Heels earned the majority of their points in the paint in the first half. Sophomore forward Armando Bacot and senior forward Garrison Brooks scored 18 and 11 points, respectively.
First-year bigs Walker Kessler and Day’Ron Sharpe entered the game early, contributing 10 points total. In the first half, UNC's four big men scored all but four of the team’s 28 points.
North Carolina also owned the boards for the game’s entirety, grabbing 53 rebounds to Syracuse’s 33 by the final buzzer. Bacot himself finished with 15 to go along with 18 points, marking the 15th double-double of his career.
Right before halftime, however, the game began to get away from UNC with the shooting of Syracuse guard Buddy Boeheim.
Boeheim knocked down five 3-pointers in the first half, leading all scorers with 17 points at the break. His fifth 3-pointer of the half capped off an 11-0 run by the Orange to take a six-point halftime lead. Boeheim eventually finished with six shots from deep on Monday.
Head coach Roy Williams said UNC needed to do a better job of keeping him from getting good looks.
“We’d like to guard them better and not give them open threes,” Williams said. “Buddy is 6-13; well, he’s done that a lot. So we should guard him better.”
On the perimeter, keeping up with Boeheim was difficult for UNC’s guards, as first-year guard Caleb Love pointed out his constant movement without the ball in his hands.
“He moves without the ball, and it’s tough to guard that because if you help or if you lose him, he’s getting an open look,” Love said. “That’s what he got in the first half. He got a lot of open looks. We just had to shut him down and we couldn’t really do that tonight.”
Though Syracuse only finished with an 8-27 mark from long range, the timeliness of the shots made the difference. All but one of the Orange’s threes came in the first half, erasing the early nine-point lead UNC held. The Tar Heels shot an abysmal 4-20 from downtown on Monday. North Carolina made all four of its threes in the second half, but played from behind for the majority of the period.
The Orange also used its iconic zone defense to match the inside force of the UNC quartet of big men. This made it difficult for UNC to open up the floor.
“They start squeezing more and more and daring us to shoot,” Bacot said. “It’s just tough when we can’t hit shots. It kind of deflates the inside game, which is our bread and butter.”
The lack of a perimeter threat to match the shooting of Syracuse hurt the Tar Heels. This became clear when their most reliable outside weapon, Kerwin Walton, couldn't make a 3-pointer. Bacot said he considers Walton the best shooter on the team by far.
“With him taking the bulk of our 3-pointers, it was huge,” Bacot said.
The ability of Syracuse to adjust to UNC’s game plan without great outside shooting from North Carolina proved to be the difference.
“Every part of basketball is a two-way street,” Williams said. “Sometimes you do something better than the other team and then during the course of the game they change. And today, the changes they made we didn’t adjust back well enough.”