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The Daily Tar Heel

Three keys to No. 7 UNC men's basketball's home matchup with Syracuse

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Sophomore guard RJ Davis (4) drives the ball to the basket at senior night against Syracuse at the Smith Center on Feb. 28, 2022. UNC won in overtime 88-79.

The No. 7 UNC men’s basketball team’s win over N.C. State in Raleigh on Wednesday — which head coach Hubert Davis called a "collectively great effort" — capped off a three-game conference road trip that the Tar Heels completed unblemished. As they return to Chapel Hill, they prepare for a showdown against the Syracuse Orange (11-4, 2-2 ACC) on Saturday.

The Tar Heels are rolling into this matchup on a five-game winning streak, boasting a perfect ACC and home record on the season.

Syracuse, playing under first-year head coach Adrian Autry, is coming off a home win against Boston College on Wednesday. The Orange have struggled so far against top teams, winning just one of their five Quad 1 matchups with an average point differential of -11.6 points. 

Here are three keys for the Tar Heels to extend their win streak on Saturday:

Continue dominating the final minutes

UNC put on a masterclass in closing out strong in its road win against then-No. 16 Clemson, shutting out the Tigers in the last five minutes. The Tar Heels followed suit on Wednesday, holding N.C. State to just six points in the final eight and a half minutes — turning a four-point lead into a double-digit win.

The Tar Heels have been preparing for these moments in practice with three-minute drills. At a press conference on Tuesday, graduate guard Cormac Ryan said he feels these late-game scenarios have been good for the team.

"You want to practice putting yourself in a situation where you have to man up and get stops and win games," Ryan said.

The Tar Heels will need to maintain their dominant play down the stretch against a Syracuse team that has proven they can rally late in close games. When the Orange were even with Pittsburgh heading into the final stretch, they scored 20 points in the final five minutes by forcing turnovers and getting to the free throw line.

Shut down Judah Mintz

The 6-foot-4 sophomore guard has been electric, earning himself spots on the watchlist for the Bob Cousy Award, Naismith Trophy and the Wooden Award this season. Mintz has been an elite scorer, with his 18.5 points per game ranking 3rd in the ACC.

Mintz has great speed and athleticism; he’s excellent at finishing at the rim and distributing the ball when he draws double-teams. He can knock down the three-pointer as well, which he showcased by going 5-7 from downtown in his 28-point outing against Cornell.

On-ball defenders will certainly have their work cut out for them, but with no other Syracuse player averaging more than 11 points, it’s important for the Tar Heels to stop the heart of the Orange’s scoring. UNC has been playing excellent defensively — Davis called UNC's effort on that side of the ball "elite" on Wednesday —  holding their last three opponents under 60 points, and it will need to focus on stopping Mintz to slow down the Orange.

Keep being assertive on the glass

Davis wants graduate center Armando Bacot to be the best rebounder in the country, and his numbers certainly support that. UNC’s all-time rebounding leader is averaging 10.7 rebounds per game — the most in the ACC and top six nationally.

Junior forward Harrison Ingram has also recently been on a tear on the glass, recording 15 or more rebounds in two of his past three games, including a career-high 19 on Wednesday against N.C. State, an effort Bacot credited with getting the Tar Heels "through the game."

UNC has out-rebounded its opponents in four straight games and leads the ACC in rebounds per game this season. Part of North Carolina's great recent scoring defense has been limiting second-chance scoring opportunities for opponents. The Tar Heels must continue to control the boards to not allow Syracuse a chance to stick around.

@dylanstalterr

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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