It certainly wasn’t comfortable, but UNC put on a strong performance in overtime to finally down Syracuse 88-79 on Senior Night in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels needed some heroics from Caleb Love, including a three-pointer in the final seconds of regulation, to even make it to overtime, but they missed just one shot in the extra period to put a bow on the victory.
Carolina got all they could handle from Syracuse’s Cole Swider on his way to 36 points on seven made three-pointers before fouling out in overtime. Hubert Davis couldn’t afford to slide Leaky Black over to guard Swider after he started going off because Black’s assignment was to contain the always-pesky Buddy Boeheim. Leaky held Boeheim to 14 points, second on the team behind Swider, but it would have undoubtedly been worse with a lesser defender on him.
Brady Manek had a very good Senior Night, leading the Tar Heels with 22 points. He finished just ahead of Love, who had 21, including some of the most important points of the game. Down one point with under 30 seconds to go, Love pulled up for a three that put the Heels up by two with seven seconds left. Syracuse was able to run down the court virtually unimpeded to score and send the game to overtime, but Love was ready to take over at that point. He scored eight of the team’s 15 points in the extra period.
Armando Bacot recorded another double-double with 17 points and 18 rebounds. RJ Davis also finished with 17 points. The team as a whole played cleaner basketball than they did against NC State on Saturday with just eight turnovers in the game. For all of that, though, they did spot the Orange a nine-point lead right out of the gate and let them hang around throughout the second half to make life harder than it needed to be.
Despite the fact that Syracuse shot better from the field than UNC — 49% to 41% — UNC was able to keep their heads above water by raining three-pointers on their opponents’ heads. Carolina made 14 of their 36 (!!) shots from long distance. They also took advantage of a huge differential in free throws, making 16 of 20 from the charity stripe while Syracuse shot just eight in the game.
Carolina may still be on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, but it does seem like they are on the side of being in having won four straight. With the win, the Tar Heels also clinched a double-bye in Brooklyn for the ACC Tournament next week. There is still the matter of Duke at Cameron to deal with, but it feels like UNC has done enough to at least be able to extend their season a little beyond the conference tournament despite all the ups and downs of the season.
The Tar Heels will try and ruin the festivities in Durham on Saturday evening.