The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday February 3rd

UNC men's basketball fights off late-game Syracuse push, defeat Orange 72-68

UNC junior guard Caleb Love (2) shoots from the 3-point line in the game against Notre Dame in the Dean Smith Center on Jan. 7, 2023. UNC won 81-64.
Buy Photos UNC junior guard Caleb Love (2) shoots from the 3-point line during the men's basketball game in the Dean Smith Center on Jan. 7, 2023.

UNC men’s basketball won its fourth consecutive game in a hard-fought 72-68 win over Syracuse that was decided by free throws.

What happened?

UNC earned a spot on the scoreboard less than 20 seconds into the game at JWA Wireless Dome with a three-pointer by RJ Davis. Caleb Love followed with a three-pointer of his own to give the Tar Heels an early six-point lead. Love, who has struggled from the three this season at just 26.8%, drowned another one just over four minutes into playing time.

At the first media timeout, North Carolina was up 15-6. Syracuse started to creep up, going on a 7-2 run after the timeout before Love became three-for-three in three pointers to bring UNC’s lead back up to seven. The Orange stayed in the game thanks to Joseph Girard, who had 12 points in the first half despite his four turnovers.

When the score became 34-32, Syracuse were the closest to catching up to UNC that they had been all game. UNC led 38-34 going into halftime. 

The Tar Heels struggled to maintain offensive control, missing their first four shots of the second half and allowing Syracuse to take their first lead of the night at 42-41. Even as the North Carolina offense faltered some, the defense remained strong, not allowing Syracuse to claim another lead.

The UNC offense recollected itself to go on a 12-4 run, but Syracuse continued to hang on. Three three-pointers in just over two minutes for the Orange brought this game back within two with nine minutes to play. 

While Syracuse found field-goal success in the second half, North Carolina relied on free throws. Free-throws had awarded the Tar Heels seven second-half points before Leaky Black’s alley-oop assisted by Love. After this, the UNC offense went over three minutes without making a field goal, allowing Syracuse to reclaim the lead.

North Carolina had to redefine their approach as Bacot took the bench after his fourth foul, but finding little success in doing so, had to put him back in the game. Regardless of the return of their big man, the Tar Heels still struggled to make their shots, allowing the Orange to retake the lead at 68-66.

Pete Nance gave his team a sense of redemption when he made a free throw and immediately transformed a ball that Girard swatted to remain in bounds into a layup to give UNC the lead back. A flagrant one on Syracuse gave North Carolina further hope in the final seconds and two more free throws allowed the Tar Heels to sneak by with a 72-68 win.

Who stood out? 

Love was 3 for 22 from three in the last three games before this one. In this game, he was three for five and his free throws with mere seconds left on the clock secured this game for UNC.

When was it decided?

The game became closer as the first half progressed and was within two-possessions at halftime. Syracuse played a better second half as UNC began to crumble. A game that seemed to be secured for North Carolina at several points never was due to a failure to uphold dominance, and this game wasn’t decided until the final buzzer.

Why does it matter?

Both of these teams entered this game 6-3 in the ACC, and both entered on a hot streak. North Carolina had won three consecutive games and nine of their last 11. Syracuse was coming off of a dominant 17-point win over Georgia Tech and had won ten of their last 13. However, UNC has struggled on the road this season, winning only one of their five road matchups this season before facing the Orange. This win upholds UNC’s win streak and proves that the team is capable of winning on the road, even if just barely.

When do they play next?

Following over a week off, the Tar Heels will return to the Dean Dome next Wednesday, Feb. 1, to host the Pittsburgh Panthers.

@lindseyashe_

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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