CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — In his final year at Kansas, Roy Williams’s squad fell to Syracuse at the 2003 national championship. When Williams met SU head coach Jim Boeheim for a handshake and hug at center court, Boeheim told him: “You’ll be back someday.”
He came back and won — delivering three national titles at UNC, five Final Fours and earned himself a Hall of Fame induction. He’s had enormous success, and his teams have dominated Syracuse since the Orange joined the ACC in 2013-14. Williams and UNC have beaten Syracuse again and again and again.
The Tar Heels’ (23-5, 13-2) 93-85 win Tuesday night over Syracuse (18-10, 9-6) at the packed Dean Smith Center was no different from many of their others. They extended their winning streak over SU to eight-straight games, bullying SU on the boards and dictating a scoring pace that couldn’t be matched.
Few coaches have had Syracuse’s number like Williams, who said after the game: “Rebounding was big for us tonight.” He improves 8-2 against the Orange at UNC.
The latest punch: an eight-point victory in late-February this season, when Syracuse came into a loud building looking for its fourth Top 25 win of the season against a team that had won 10 of its last 11. The Orange put on their best offensive show since their 95-91 overtime win at Duke. The Tar Heels wanted to play at a fast clip, and the Orange showed they could match that almost basket for basket. They were in the game, right there on the cusp, for 39 minutes and more.
Yet the Orange fell victim to the root of their issues against UNC: rebounding. The Heels won the battle on the boards, 46-25, a margin of 21.
“This was a good outing for us,” Boeheim said, adding: “They hurt everybody on the boards. They hurt us big-time on the boards in the second half.”
In each of the teams’ last eight meetings, UNC has smacked SU on the boards. The Tar Heels had had more second-chance points than Syracuse in each of their last seven matchups, averaging 13 per contest. It amounted to 16 second-chance points by the Tar Heels Tuesday.
“They’re good on the boards,” Boeheim said, “and we’re not.”
The 9 p.m. game opened with a fast Syracuse start. Junior forward Elijah Hughes drilled 5-of-7 3-point attempts, finishing with 15. SU tallied 13 first-half assists and turned over the ball only three times. Much like the Duke upset a month ago, the Orange traded baskets with a high-powered, balanced offense. They attacked off the dribble and knocked down shots. Scoring came in multiple ways from multiple sources. Junior guard Tyus Battle led the way with 29 points and five rebounds.
But in the second half, the crowd ooh’d at freshman guard Coby White’s nifty crossovers and deep 3s. They rose to their feet after an and-one that stunted Syracuse’s momentum. Next, a White lob to Garrison Brooks — who slammed the ball with two hands — sent the arena into delirium.
Suddenly, UNC boomed ahead to a 15-3 run out of the break. Facing their third-straight ranked opponent, the Orange didn’t contain White. On one sequence, when he drilled a long 3-pointer, he had no doubt where it was headed, already beginning his trot back on defense. He followed it up with a breakaway dunk to push the lead to eight. The North Carolina bench brimmed with optimism, towels waving and high-fives all around. White, whom Williams called the “best scoring point guard I’ve coached,” finished with a game-high 34 points on 14 shots.
On the boards, UNC quietly tacked on chance after chance. They elongated possessions and took time off the clock, swiftly moving the ball along the perimeter and through a rotation of big men near the Carolina-blue paint.
“That’s the best rebounding team we will play, probably the best rebounding team in the country,” said SU freshman guard Buddy Boeheim, who scored eight points. “They have big guys down there. They send three or four, sometimes five guys. That’s what they do best.
“They’re relentless,” Buddy added. “They know if they take tough shots, even if they miss them, they’re going to have three or four guys running inside, already with position in there. It’s hard to adjust to that.”
North Carolina, whom Boeheim called “probably the hottest team in the conference,” leads the country in rebounds per game. They’ve won 11 of their last 12. Syracuse opponents, meanwhile, have rebounded nearly a third of misses. Therein appeared to be a mismatch that tilted in UNC’s favor. Crashing the boards is an art — UNC generally crashed three or four players Tuesday night — and its length and size helps. Players timed their jumps and picked spots they predicted the rebound would go.
Three games remain on the Orange’s regular-season schedule. They showcased at UNC a balanced offense that could score when they needed to, and Boeheim said 85 points is encouraging. Buddy said the offense is “right where it needs to be.” But twice in the past two games, they’ve led a top-five team at halftime. Twice, they’ve started fast. Twice, they haven’t kept pace in the second half, letting a pair of possible top-five upsets fade away.
Published on February 26, 2019 at 11:18 pm