SYRACUSE, NY — Through the ups and the downs of building leads and then having them evaporate, North Carolina did just enough to overcome a challenging environment and make Tuesday night a success. The Tar Heels topped Syracuse 72-68 at the lively JMA Wireless Dome, with Pete Nance and RJ Davis swooping in during the final seconds to deliver this eventful victory and escape for UNC.
Nance went to the foul line with 21.4 seconds remaining and the Tar Heels trailing by two. He made the first shot and missed the second, but suddenly had the ball underneath the basket and scored the go-ahead lay-in, after Joseph Girard III made a diving save on the baseline that went right to Nance. UNC led 69-68 with 17.7 seconds left.
Davis then came up with a crucial defensive play that injured him. Syracuse guard Judah Mintz charged full steam into Davis with 10.7 seconds to go, a Flagrant 1 foul that left Davis down on the court in pain.
Nance’s 21 points, Armando Bacot’s 18 points and Caleb Love’s 15 points led the Tar Heels (15-6 overall, 7-3 ACC), who picked up their second win on the road this season. UNC has won four straight and 10 of its last 12 games.
Girard’s 18 points and Mintz’s 17 points topped Syracuse (13-8, 6-4). UNC led by as many as nine in the first half and 10 in the second half, and ultimately weathered foul trouble creeping in on Bacot, a shaken-up Davis spending several second-half stretches getting tended to off the court, and the rowdiness of this building.
Caleb Love perks up in first half
Love’s shooting struggles didn’t follow him here to a snowy New York state. He drained a pair of 3-pointers during the game’s first 4½ minutes, and might’ve been on the way to a bigger first half if not for two offensive fouls that sent him to the UNC bench for a stretch.
His early flurry from deep helped the Tar Heels open a 13-4 lead out of the gate to start the night. He knew the second launch was good, confidently getting into a backpedal before the shot swished through the net.
Love scored nine first-half points on 3-for-3 shooting from 3-point range. He made all three on catch-and-shoots set up by passes, rather than pulling off the dribble. Nance found him wide open for a clean look from straight on, and Love buried that shot for a 20-13 Tar Heels’ lead.
Have another and another
After totaling just five assists during its victory against NC State three days prior, UNC already had handed out six assists during the first 5:17 of game time here Tuesday night.
And the dishes kept piling up. The Tar Heels registered an assist on each of their first 10 buckets against Syracuse. By halftime, they had distributed 14 assists on their 16 field goals, after Leaky Black fed the running Bacot in transition for a big dunk that put UNC ahead 38-32 in the final minute of the first half. Generating offense was more challenging in the second half, but the Tar Heels still finished the game with 20 assists on their 26 made field goals.
Next on the schedule
North Carolina catches a break in the ACC schedule after Tuesday night’s win and doesn’t play again until next week on Feb. 1, with Pittsburgh’s visit to Chapel Hill, NC UNC will have seven days off between the Syracuse and Pitt games.
It’ll be a Wednesday-Saturday turnaround for the Tar Heels next week from the Pitt game at the Smith Center to their first meeting of the season with rival Duke, on Feb. 4 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.