North Carolina stayed composed and deliberate for much of the 36 minutes it led Syracuse on Tuesday night. Yet in the closing minutes, the Tar Heels needed a little luck to come away with a 72-68 win.
UNC’s Leaky Black had locked up Syracuse guard Joe Girard III for most of the game. But with 1:27 left, Black left his feet on a pump fake allowing Girard possibly the cleanest look he’d had all game while the 6-foot-9 defender chased him.
Girard made the 3-pointer that put the Orange ahead just for the third time in the game.
On the ensuing possession, UNC guard Caleb Love, who played within the offensive flow all game, forced up a 3-pointer with 51 seconds left.
Love entered the game shooting just 26 percent from 3-point range and he’d connected on just three of his last 22. The first half against the Orange, Love showed no signs of a slump, connecting on his first three shots, all from 3-point range and all in catch-and-shoot plays.
It looked dire for the Heels as the JMA Wireless Dome crowd erupted and the Orange had possession. But Judah Mintz missed a jumper and on the ensuing possession, Jesse Edwards fouled Pete Nance, who cut back door for dunk.
Nance made his first attempt, but missed the second. In the scramble for the loose ball, Black got his hands on it, but lost it as he bumped into Armando Bacot.
As the ball rolled toward the baseline, Girard attempted to save it to Mounir Hima and instead threw it straight to Nance, who laid it up to give the Heels the lead for good, 69-68 with 17.7 left.
UNC guard R.J. Davis, who caught an elbow from Mintz early in the second half and sat out for four minutes, again found himself defending Mintz as he sped toward the basket with time winding down.
Mintz appeared to catch Davis with another elbow to the face as he tried to maneuver the ball from his right to the left. Mintz was called for a charge, but Davis stayed down on the court before being helped back to the locker room.
The foul on Mintz was elevated to a flagrant-1 foul and Love made the free throws to seal the game for the Tar Heels.
The Orange erased a 38-34 halftime deficit and even took their first lead of the game on a Jesse Edwards basket with 17:42 to play.
Carolina dissected the Syracuse zone in the first half, staying disciplined with its passes and its shot selection. The Heels had assists on their first 10 baskets of the game and only two of their 16 field goals did not come directly from a pass.
But after shooting 51 percent from the field in the first half, Carolina missed its first five shots from the field in the second. But it found its offense by getting out in transition just as Syracuse tied the game at 44.
The Heels reeled off a 12-2 spurt thanks to a pair of fast break baskets from Armando Bacot and a 3-pointer from Nance. It gave UNC its biggest lead of the game 56-46 with 12:43 left.
The Orange regrouped in part by using full court pressure, which at times sped the Heels up a little too fast.