It was a packed Loud House in Central New York, but Syracuse (18-10, 7-8) fell 78-74 to North Carolina (22-7, 11-5) in a back and forth affair. Frustrating does not do the result justice.
Frank Howard, Tyus Battle and Oshae Brissett scored 66 of the Orange's 74 points. The story tonight is the same as it has been all season, 'Cuse has only three players making significant offensive contributions. Despite all the scoring, Syracuse struggled to defend inside for the majority of the game.
The first half showed signs of tenth-ranked UNC pulling away. Howard sunk a three to open the game for 'Cuse and the Orange then went just over 6 minutes without scoring from the field. Chapel Hill would lead by as many as 12 in the first half.
Syracuse made a few runs to pull within three, but could never get any closer as the half wore on. North Carolina would have taken a 12-point lead into the half, but Brissett hit a buzzer-beater three to cut it down to single digits, 41-32.
North Carolina seemed unaffected by anything the Orange tried defensively in the half. It was impossible for Syracuse to key on any one player either as UNC had eight different players score before intermission; seven of them had five points or more. Theo Pinson and Luke Maye were leading the way with just eight, but the team as a whole hit 55 percent of its shots.
Jim Boeheim's group came out of the break fired up. The offense continued to click, but it seemed as though North Carolina always had an answer. Once again, the Orange showed the ability to close the gap to three, but never any closer.
UNC seemed like it was going to pull away, pushing the lead out to 12 about halfway through the final period. Syracuse continued to hang around though. Boeheim switched the defense to a full-court press. Battle and Howard attacked the rim, scoring enough to keep the Orange in the game.
Pinson drilled a three to put the Tar Heels up by eight with just under five minutes to play. Then 'Cuse roared to life.
It started with a dunk by Brissett on the fastbreak. It continued with two free throws from Battle. Then Paschal Chukwu rejected Sterling Manley, followed by a layup from Battle. The full-court pressure from Syracuse sped up the North Carolina offense, forcing some rushed shot attempts. Battle hit another bucket in transition to tie the game at 74 with under three minutes to play.
That's where the magic ended. Brissett missed a three badly. Battle came up short on another deep attempt, but the ensuing rebound came to Chukwu. The big man did what he has done all year and coughed it up, leading to a fastbreak score from Joel Berry.
Still, 'Cuse only trailed by two, until Howard pulled up from behind the arc and clanged off a miss. Howard finished the game 5-10 from three-point range, but missed it when it counted. Berry would add on two free throws to ice the game, 78-74.
Syracuse missed its final seven shots of the contest. Battle failed to hit a three-pointer all game long, the second time in the last three outings. Chukwu, Marek Dolezaj, Matthew Moyer and Bourama Sidibe combined to score eight points.
The Orange returns to action on Saturday when it takes on Duke in Durham at 6:15 pm.