North Carolina clinched a double-bye in next week’s ACC tournament, moved one step closer to claiming the league’s regular season title, but what seems the most significant is that the Tar Heels got a close win against a good team as we head into March with a 75-70 victory against Syracuse.
The Tar Heels saw a familiar scenario play out in the Dean Dome, but instead of Duke it was Syracuse making a charge in the second half. The Orange cut UNC’s lead to 1 with 2:23 to play, ending a long streak of missed shots by both teams with a quick flurry of points. On the next play, Marcus Paige, who did miss 8 of his 10 shot attempts, dropped 1 of his 8 dimes to Isaiah Hicks for a key bucket to extend the lead to three. On the next trip down, Brice Johnson pulled down Joel Berry’s missed 3-pointer and put it back to push the lead to five.
In the moment where it looked like Syracuse could steal a win in Chapel Hill, North Carolina came through in the clutch. Powell Latimer, of the News & Record, was sharp to point out it was the seniors getting it done on senior night.
North Carolina entered the game 4-6 in games decided by eight points or less this year, most notable for the good win against Maryland in December and crushing losses to Louisville, Notre Dame, Duke and Virginia. The Tar Heels have been in these close battles against good ACC teams often over the last two seasons, but more often then not they’ve ended up on the losing side.
Working to reverse that recent trend might not mean much now, but getting some winning experience in close games like this one is going to make the next few weeks a little less anxious when things get close. But to completely shake any demons from the loss to the Devils, they’ll need to get a win on Saturday in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Duke will be playing spoiler for the Tar Heels, who can clinch at least a share of the ACC regular season championship and the No. 1 seed in the ACC tournament with a win. They’ve got the tiebreaker against Miami should the Hurricanes win out (Notre Dame, Virginia Tech left to play) or finish in a tie with the Tar Heels in the standings.