The weak spot in Syracuse’s defense is often the high post, due to head coach Jim Boeheim’s preference to extend his guards into the passing lanes. UNC worked through James Michael McAdoo in the high post early in building a 10-4 lead.
Boeheim promptly moved his center up and dropped his backside guard to help defend the high post, and with that option all but taken away, UNC’s halfcourt offense went dormant.
“They started to play [the high post] better, so I just tried to be aggressive and get into the paint and try to create opportunities for our bigs,” sophomore guard Marcus Paige told reporters following the loss. “We had a lot of shots at the rim that we didn’t complete or they would block… It was tough because we wanted to get the ball into that ACC logo area and attack from there, but they made adjustments.”
In falling to 0-3 in the ACC for the first time since the 1996-97 season, UNC (10-6) paired a lack of perimeter shooting with an absence of post scoring to score the fewest points of the Roy Williams era.
“Their zone is very good, there’s no question about that,” the 11th-year UNC head coach said.
After converting five of their first seven field goal attempts, the Tar Heels shot 26.3 percent (5-of-19) over the final 15:25 of the opening half. During one eight-minute, 47-second stretch, UNC had one field goal and six turnovers.
Syracuse paired nine blocks with nine steals in establishing its defensive presence. Paige scored a team-high 17 points on 7-of-16 shooting – 11 coming after UNC trailed by 16 midway through the second half – and McAdoo added 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting. No other Tar Heel scored more than four points.
Syracuse utilized a 28-8 run to take a 34-22 lead into halftime. UNC’s 22 first-half points are the fewest in an ACC game since scoring 20 in the second half against Maryland at home last season.
It didn’t get much better after halftime as UNC finished the game shooting 35.0 percent, including a 16.7 mark (2-of-12) from 3-point range.
And while UNC was effective defensively in holding Syracuse to 39.2 percent shooting, the Orange’s stranglehold of the boards alleviated that impact.
“I just thought we did a really good job - the best job on the boards all year, really,” Boeheim said.
Syracuse outrebounded UNC 41-35, including a 17-10 edge on the offensive glass. The Orange held a 12-2 advantage in second-chance points.
“We got a lot of extra possessions in this game and I thought that was really the difference,” Boeheim said.
Those extra possessions were glaring due to the manner in which they were earned. The Orange often outfought the Tar Heels for loose balls off the rim, especially in the first half.
“They had seven more possessions than we did and it just looked like they were more alert, more assertive [and] more intense,” Williams said. “It seemed like every loose ball didn’t just bounce their way, but they got it. They went and got it.”
Limiting your opponent’s possessions while creating more of your own is the standard method for cutting into a double-digit deficit. UNC, however, gave up 13 or more offensive rebounds for the eighth time in its past 12 games.
“If you get a score and then play 30 seconds of great defense, your team is ready to go, and then we give up an offensive rebound or a putback or a tip out to [Trevor] Cooney for a three,” Paige said. “Those things are really deflating.”
UNC entered Saturday’s contested ranked 343rd out of 345 teams nationally in 3-point field goals made per game, so the lack of post production in both scoring and rebounding highlights a troublesome trend over the first week of ACC play. Previous UNC teams under Williams have been able to win from inside or out; this one has struggled to do either consistently.
The Tar Heels are averaging just 56.3 points in conference play, good for 12th.