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UNC vs. Syracuse: Three things learned

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It’s a win, but it wasn’t pretty.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

While they’ve played other close games during the six-game winning streak, UNC’s road victory in Syracuse was by far the most frustrating. They hung on for the win, but getting across the line was not pretty.

Here are three takeaways from the Tar Heels’ 78-74 win in the Carrier Dome.

This team is not immune from shooting itself in the foot

The reason this game got so close at the end was not because of Syracuse’s zone. UNC was shooting above 50% from the field for a large portion of the game. They had 25 assists on 29 made field goals for the game. They handled the zone with not a ton of trouble.

The issues started when the Orange started to press, but even then, it wasn’t because the press started forcing turnovers. The Tar Heels broke it fairly easily a bunch of times, they just then started playing dumb when they got across halfcourt.

Once across halfcourt, they missed a bunch of contested layups. Some of them may have led to trips to the foul line on other days, but far more of them were needlessly rushed and bad ideas. On one possession, UNC did break the press and not rush into a bad layup. Instead they just went the complete other direction, and the possession ended in a really deep Joel Berry three with still a couple seconds left on the shot clock.

The previous five games of the winning streak were not perfectly played, but they were about as good as you can ask the team to play. This was not that. They didn’t turn the ball over at a bad rate like they have in the past, but they still made some pretty bad mistakes down the stretch.

The March rotations are starting to take effect

Ten players got minutes against Syracuse. Four of them played under five minutes. The only non-starter to get significant playing time was Sterling Manley, who got 17. (And was really solid in those 17, it should be noted.) The five starters plus Manley were the entirety of who played in the second half, and that’s probably a sign of what’s to come in March.

Roy Williams will probably give some of the rest of the rotation minutes in the first halves of games, because that’s usually what he does. However, the minutes distribution in the second is probably what we’re going to see from here on out.

Despite Syracuse going on that run in the second half, the shortening is probably for the best. Before the second half, the Orange went on a run in the first that cut down UNC’s lead going into halftime. Those also match up to the times when Joel Berry and Theo Pinson were getting rest.

The defense can be pretty iffy

On the surface, allowing 74 points on 43% shooting is far from terrible. However, it’s pretty hard to argue that UNC’s defense played well against Syracuse. In the second half especially, it seemed like Tyus Battle could score anytime he got the ball. When he missed shots, he would end up going to the free throw line.

The three-point defense is often maligned, but it’s not exclusively that.

Games like Duke show that they’re capable of playing excellent defense. It’s far from perfect, however.