HOUSTON — After Villanova destroyed Oklahoma, 95-51, in the first game Saturday night, the top-seeded North Carolina men's basketball team leads 10th-seeded Syracuse 39-28 at halftime of the second semifinal game.
Here are five thoughts at the half, with the Tar Heels fighting for a chance to take on the Wildcats in the national championship game Monday night:
Early foul trouble
Both Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks picked up fouls within three minutes of this game, while Isaiah Hicks continued his noted foul issues with one of his own just two minutes after entering the game. After one half, the three have combined for six fouls.
Johnson picked up his second foul going for a rebound at the 9:05 mark and was sent to the bench. In the first period, he played just nine minutes, which helped limit him to only eight points. Hicks picked up two more with less than a minute left in the half.
With UNC's biggest edge in this game coming from the size advantage it has inside, it will be important for all three of these players to avoid picking up more fouls and to stay on the court for as long as possible.
The "NRG Effect" is real
Or UNC is just having an off-night from the perimeter. Or both. Either way, the Tar Heels are 0-for-10 from beyond the arc.
That hasn't been the case for the Orange, though, as Syracuse has made three of its 10 3-point attempts, with first-year forward Tyler Lydon hitting 2-of-3.
Shooting out of the zone is one of the easiest ways to beat it, but that's going to be difficult when you can't make a 3-pointer. If UNC can't improve that mark in the second half, then even more pressure will be put on UNC's vaunted interior game.
The 6-foot-8 junior forward played well in the first half after being extremely active in the paint and around the rim. He leads the Orange with seven rebounds, including five on the offensive glass, and had a huge putback dunk to to tie the game at 18 with 8:09 left in the half.
Roberson entered the game averaging nine points and 8.4 rebounds per game.
Kennedy Meeks is playing well
Meeks has been incredibly efficient thus far, scoring nine points on 4-of-4 shooting, thanks to some nice movement in and around Syracuse's zone, as well as being in good position on a few offensive rebounds. Meeks has struggled at times throughout this tournament, but when he plays well, it makes everything easier for Johnson and Hicks given his ability to make smart interior passes and the fact that he's another big man that deserves attention.
Marcus Paige is not
The senior leader of the team finished the half with two points after shooting 1-of-6 from the field and missing all three of his shots from beyond the arc. We've heard all season how important getting to Houston is for Paige and Johnson, so look to see some extra fire out of him in the second half.
He did finish the half better than he started it, with a jumper at the 5:50 mark and a block — his 15th of the season — on Michael Gbinije at the 3:31 mark. So if you're a glass-half-full kind of person, well, look at those things instead of his point total right now.
UNC is up 11 points despite not playing particularly well for much of the first half. It started to figure things out offensively around the eight-minute mark with Joel Berry driving into the zone more, but that wasn't the case for much of the half.
The Tar Heels didn't establish their preferred tempo until late in the half (they have six fast-break points compared to Syracuse's zero) and have just a 22-20 edge on the glass. Combine that slight edge on the glass with the non-existent perimeter shooting, and Coach Roy Williams should be feeling pretty good about that lead.
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