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Biggest crowd of the season saw some good defense

Syracuse was already a couple games into the ACC schedule on Saturday when the North Carolina Tar Heels visited the Carrier Dome. Yet a lot of people really viewed this game as "the start of the real ACC season." Well, whether or not you choose to put that much bearing on one game, in January, UNC would certainly be a test for the Orange. For a team with five losses, the Heels also had three marquee wins on its resume as well -- Kentucky, Louisville, and Michigan State -- so Syracuse needed to play tough to ensure a victory. That seemed out of reach for the first several minutes of the game, as UNC built a lead. However, the Orange offense fought back, took the lead, and then let the defense take over to maintain the lead to the end. In the first conference meeting between the two schools, Syracuse walked away victorious 57-45.

  • As one of the 32,121 on hand for this one, it seems like I have a different feeling on this game than some who watched on TV. I've seen some mention they thought Syracuse played poorly. I didn't see that. Sure, they shot 35% for the game and 21.1% from three. Not a great offensive effort. But when you consider UNC shot 39.2% for the game and 16.7% from three, you see that it just wasn't a high-powered offensive game.
  • And I'll be the first to admit I'm not a fan of the typical 57-45 scores you might more commonly see in the Big Ten. But for whatever reason, Syracuse vs. UNC evolved as a slow game with few fouls, lots of passing, lots of turnovers, winding down the shot clock, and poor shooting. The team that executes in those situations more than the other team is the team that wins. On Saturday, that was Syracuse.
  • While there was no real offensive juggernaut-type performance on the floor, I bet you'd be shocked to find out that Syracuse had four players in double-digit scoring: CJ Fair led with 20, Jerami Grant had 12, and Tyler Ennis & Trevor Cooney each scored ten. Good balance and good contribution from your starters, with your senior leader stepping up and leading the way.
  • Jim Boeheim went with a seven-man rotation, bringing in Baye Moussa Keita and Michael Gbinije off the bench to give breathers to Cooney, Ennis, and Rakeem Christmas. Fair and Grant played the entire 40 minutes.
  • Coming into the game, the scouting report on UNC was they shot the ball poorly from beyond the arc, which played well into the Syracuse 2-3 zone: force them to shoot threes, which they would miss, and would cut down on their scoring. Well who thought the shooting would be as bad as it was? 2-12 from downtown. If UNC hits its typical one-third of threes, on those twelve attempts that's two more made, and we're talking about a much closer game.
  • While Syracuse played well when it needed to, and its defense was great, let's talk about something: ten turnovers. While these were primarily early in the game, they led to 14 points for UNC during the game. Syracuse needs to take better care of the ball, particularly against future opponents who can shoot the ball better.
  • Going the other way though, credit the SU defense for nine steals and creating 14 turnovers. The Orange big men also stepped up and made sure that even when UNC could get a shot off, a hand would be in their face -- Syracuse had nine blocks. NOT IN KEITA'S HOUSE! (note, Keita had no blocks)
  • Syracuse won the rebounding battle 41-35, but what's important there is that Syracuse had 17 offensive boards, allowing the offense to score 12 second chance points.
  • This game saw a total of 22 fouls called, leading to only 24 free throw attempts between the two schools. Little wonder this noon game was over by 1:45pm.
This game was another example of how Syracuse just keeps finding ways to win. Credit the defense for clamping down and not letting Carolina back into it after Syracuse gained the lead at the 10:34 mark in the first half. In fact, that was in the middle of the stretch between 12:03 and 7:53 where UNC scored no field goals. In that time, the score went from 15-11 UNC to 21-17 Syracuse. And then Syracuse took it home.

After Monday's visit to Chestnut Hill, Syracuse will return to the Carrier Dome on Saturday to face the other current leader in the ACC, familiar foe Pittsburgh. We'll have twitter and blog coverage, as per usual.

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