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January 11, 2014

Heels humbled at Syracuse

North Carolina, desperately needing a victory in Atlantic Coast Conference play, headed north to Syracuse Saturday afternoon to play the unbeaten and second-ranked Orange in the first-ever league game between the two traditional national powers.

Coming off losses to Wake Forest and Miami, not a lot of people were giving UNC a realistic chance of coming away victorious. The Tar Heels had a fast start, taking an early six-point lead, but eventually the Orange, behind stifling defense (holding UNC to 20 of 51 shooting (39.2 percent) for the game), went on to take control on its way to a 57-45 triumph.

It was the lowest-scoring output for a North Carolina team in the Roy Williams era, surpassing the 48 points the Tar Heels scored against Boston College in February, 2011, and it was the lowest output for a UNC team in a single game since it scored 40 points against Duke back in 1979 in a game in which Hall of Famer Dean Smith stalled the entire first half and the Tar Heels didn't score over the first 20 minutes.

"I just thought they (Syracuse) were so much more aggressive, had so much more intensity than we did," said Coach Williams immediately after the game.

Williams wasn't necessarily displeased with the shots his team got against Syracuse's vaunted zone defense, but he had plenty to complain about in terms of UNC's rebounding, ball security, and sense of urgency.

"Their zone is very good---there's no question about that. It's very good. They probably play it about as good as anybody. It is an adjustment for everybody. They do it very well, but I wasn't displeased with the quality of the shots. But we turned the ball over more than we should," Williams said.

"At halftime there was only one shot that I didn't like. It was the turnovers and our inability to stop them from getting offensive rebounds. I mean, they shoot it one time (in the first half) and it barely ticks the rim as the shot clock is going off, and they get it off the floor and score. We foul them with five seconds left on the shot clock one time. We kick the ball out of bounds and give them ten more seconds. It's just a comedy of errors there down the stretch."

As it did in its upsets over Michigan State and Louisville away from Chapel Hill, UNC built an early 8-2 behind James Michael McAdoo, but then the Orange settled in, sank some shots, and got their aggressive zone defense working, disrupting UNC passing lanes and forcing a total of 14 turnovers on the day.

"Early on we did a better job of moving---we had more patience---and then had that stretch late in the first half where they took it (the lead) out when we had a couple turnovers," said Williams.

The Tar Heels endured a seven-minute stretch late in the first half with only four baskets and six turnovers, as well as a sixteen-minute stretch of first half action with just ten points, as the Orange took a 34-22 halftime lead.

"We hurt ourselves in the late stages of the first half with some turnovers. It's very disappointing," Williams continued.

Keeping the pressure on, Syracuse came out with an 8-2 run to start the second half, building a 42-24 advantage and essentially putting the game on ice, as UNC never again got the score within single digits.

Hustle was the watchword of the day for the Tar Heels, as time and again UNC found itself getting out-hustled and out-played by the Orange, whether it was for a rebound or for a loose ball. Syracuse finished with 16 offensive rebounds and 40 rebounds for the game.

"They had seven more possessions than we did. It just looked like they were more alert, more assertive, more intense," said Coach Williams. "It seemed like every loose ball, it didn't just bounce their way---they got it, they went and got it---and you have to congratulate them for that."

In addition to hustle, UNC shot dreadfully from the floor, missing its first nine three-pointer attempts and finishing the game 2-for-12 from behind the arc.

Syracuse's big men were also relentless defending the basket, producing nine blocked shots over the course of the game.

Again UNC struggled getting to the free throw line, attempting just nine in the game, and they only made three of them---a dreadful 33.3 percent shooting clip from the stripe.

In a glaring contrast of styles, Syracuse's Jim Boeheim only played seven players, while the Tar Heel had 10 players receive at least eight minutes of game action. Certainly on this day, Boeheim's thinner lineup proved to be more effective as the Orange improved to 16-0, while the Tar Heels fell to 10-6 overall, inching ever-so-closer to that dreaded NCAA 'Bubble' status that they're trying every winter to avoid.

"Syracuse, right now so far this year has played better than everybody else (in the ACC). I don't think there's any question about that," Williams said. "They've accomplished more. They're 16-0. So everybody is going to have to play their best (against them). You're not going to beat Syracuse unless you're playing at the top of your potential."

But what's really scary about the workmanlike way the Orange defeated the Tar Heels was the fact that they were just four-of-19 from three-point range (21.1 percent) and 35 percent (21 of 60) for the game as a whole.

If Syracuse had really been shooting, UNC could have easily lost his one by 20 or 30 points.

"I don't think he (Coach Boeheim) is going to say it was a great game for them. I mean, they got by and didn't shoot the ball well, and still beat us easily," said Williams.

Marcus Paige (17 points) and McAdoo (15 points) scored 32 of North Carolina's 45 points, as only one other UNC player (Nate Britt) had even four points.

C.J. Fair led the way for 'Cuse with 20 points, while Jerami Grant produced 12 points and Trevor Cooney and Tyler Ennis each had 10.

"I thought C.J. was really good. I thought Jerami was really good. C.J. was a load. There's a reason he was picked as a preseason favorite for Player of the Year," Williams replied. "I love (Tyler) Ennis and Trevor (Cooney) in the backcourt. It gives them tough guys, shooters. Ennis is just really a high-level player. He doesn't look like a freshman out there. He hurt us taking the ball to the basket, and just making decisions and running the club."

UNC will have a week of soul-searching before they return to game action next Saturday afternoon in the Smith Center against Boston College. Tipoff is set for noon eastern time from Chapel Hill.

"We've got to play with greater aggressiveness than we did today," said Williams.


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