Syracuse (16-0, 3-0) evened its all-time record against the North Carolina (10-6, 0-3) to 4-4. UNC started 0-2 in ACC play three times in the past five years and five times overall, and the loss to Syracuse equaled the worst conference start in school history in 1996-97, Dean Smith's final year as head coach.
It was the fewest points scored by North Carolina since posting 44 in a loss to Duke in 1979.
UNC coach Roy Williams dropped to 1-4 against Syracuse, the most notable setback an 81-78 loss to the Orange for the 2003 national championship in New Orleans when he was coach at Kansas. Syracuse also beat Kansas in the 1996 NCAA tournament by three points (60-57) to reach the Final Four.
North Carolina was coming off a home 63-57 loss to Miami in which the Tar Heels shot just 31 percent (20 for 65) and finished with a season-low scoring output against Miami's zone.
This game, which featured teams with a combined 3,989 wins (UNC is third with 2,100 and Syracuse fifth with 1,889) was decided by a dominant first half and strong defense by the Orange.
Tyler Ennis finished with 10 points and seven assists to go with a season-high four turnovers, and Trevor Cooney had 10 points despite a woeful shooting game. He was 4 of 17 and 2 of 12 from long range.
Marcus Paige led North Carolina with 17 points and James Michael McAdoo had with 15 points and nine rebounds.
Center Joel James, who returned to the North Carolina lineup Wednesday night against Miami after missing four straight games and most of a loss to Texas on Dec. 18 with a right-knee injury, played only 10 minutes and did not score. J.P Tokoto finished with three points on 1-of-6 shooting.
UNC shot 2 of 12 from behind the arc and 20 of 51 (39.2 percent) overall and was outrebounded 41-35, plush 17-10 on the offensive glass, netting just two second-chance points.
Syracuse led by 12 at halftime and extended the lead to 42-24 on Fair's three-point play with 16:18 to go.
Paige answered with a 3, McAdoo converted a wide-open layup and Brice Johnson followed with an open slam dunk to keep the Tar Heels in the game.
Any chance at a comeback seemed to disappear when Ennis fed Cooney for a 3 from the left wing at the shot clock buzzer to boost the Syracuse lead to 47-31 midway through the half and the Orange cruised to the win.
The Tar Heels have been inconsistent, beating highly ranked Michigan State, Kentucky and Louisville but losing to five unranked opponents. They were 12th in the preseason poll but dropped out of the rankings in the fourth regular-season voting following losses to Belmont and UAB, returned after a one-week absence with a win over then-No. 1 Michigan State, then dropped out from No. 19 after opening ACC play with a loss at Wake Forest.
North Carolina was intent on knocking off another ranked team and attacked the middle of the Syracuse zone with great success at the outset, with McAdoo hitting a pair of jumpers and Tokoto another from the foul line as the Tar Heels gained an 8-4 lead in the first 4 minutes.
The Orange regrouped after a timeout and went on a 17-5 run keyed by Fair and Grant, who did all the scoring. Fair hit a 3 from the wing and converted three free throws to give Syracuse a 19-15 lead and two free throws by Grant completed a 10-0 spurt and put the Orange on top 21-15 at 8:53.
The Tar Heels cooled off in a big way after the solid start, unable to penetrate inside. After Paige converted a three-point play with 13:04 left, UNC got only a fast-break slam dunk by McAdoo, a layup by Nate Britt and a jumper in the lane by Leslie McDonald in the ensuing 11 minutes and went into the locker room at halftime trailing 34-22.
North Carolina was 0 for 8 from beyond the arc in the opening half and pounded on the boards 34-22, failing to get any second-chance points, as Grant pulled down eight rebounds. The Orange weren't much better from long range, and Cooney missed all six of his attempts. But they outscored the Tar Heels 10-2 from the foul line.