The North Carolina men’s basketball team (22-8, 14-5 ACC) held on late to beat the Syracuse Orange 88-79 on Senior Night in an overtime thriller.
The Orange (15-15, 9-10 ACC) got off to a torrid start, making their first six baskets to take an early 15-6 lead. They were led by forward Cole Swider, who scored eight quick points in less than four minutes. Both teams were on fire from the 3-point line, draining four triples each within the first seven minutes.
The Tar Heels were able to use their perimeter shooting to tie the game at 24 with 9:25 left in the opening half. After nearly three minutes of scoreless play, Swider gave Syracuse the lead after a tough contested jumper, but UNC responded to get its first lead of the game a few plays after sophomore guard RJ Davis nailed an open 3-pointer.
The Davis triple sparked a 9-0 North Carolina run, highlighted by two thunderous dunks from graduate forward Brady Manek. That spurt helped the Tar Heels go into halftime with a 41-36 advantage.
The Orange started the second half strong, quickly reclaiming the lead thanks to a 7-0 run. UNC tied the game up back at 50 after Manek utilized a pump fake to make a tough layup. After Syracuse took another small lead, UNC tied it back again after sophomore guard Caleb Love found a wide open junior center Amarndo Bacot, who finished the basket despite a hard foul.
Swider continued to light up North Carolina, making key shots to keep his team ahead. Both teams traded punches as the game clock rapidly ticked down, with no team establishing any sort of breathing room.
After struggling all night, Love drilled a huge 3-pointer to give UNC a 70-69 lead with 2:23 left. After an Orange tip-in, Manek missed a fadeaway jumper, putting Sryacuse in control with under a minute left. The Tar Heels were able to force a turnover, giving them 15.7 seconds to find a winning basket.
Love buried a deep triple to give his team the lead late, but Syracuse guard Joseph Girard III sent the game to overtime with a fadeaway shot.
In the overtime period, Love scored another huge 3-pointer to give UNC a five-point lead with under four minutes remaining. Davis followed up that with a triple of his own and the Tar Heels were suddenly up eight and in command of the game. With just under a minute left, Love scored a tough and-one layup to seal the 88-79 victory.
Who stood out?
After struggling early, Love recovered to make three huge buckets down the stretch to lead his team to victory. He finished with 21 points and six rebounds and had the highest plus-minus on UNC.
Manek led the team in scoring with 22 points on his Senior Night and put home a few dunks that electrified the home crowd.
When was it decided?
The two big overtime threes from Love and Davis set the tone for the extra period and gave North Carolina its first comfortable lead of the game. From there, UNC's defense held strong on the way to the victory.
Why does it matter?
With the Tar Heels still firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble, they need every win they can get. A win against an Orange team near .500 doesn’t do much to help their seeding, but a loss could have been devastating.
If UNC also loses to No. 4 Duke, the team might have to rely on a solid ACC Tournament performance or its national title hopes could be dashed before the NCAA Tournament even begins.
When do they play next?
North Carolina will head to Durham to face the Blue Devils for the highly-anticipated final home game of the illustrious career of head coach Mike Krzyzewski on Saturday at 6 p.m.
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