The Cinderella against the favorite. David against Goliath. It was the underdog Syracuse Orange against the perennial favorite North Carolina Tar Heels on Saturday night in Houston. However, unlike the stories, Cinderella did not keep dancing and David did not slay Goliath. The clock struck midnight on the Orange’s magical tournament run as they fell to North Carolina 83-66. The Tar Heels pretty much dominated from the very beginning of the game. Syracuse kept it within one or two points for the first 10 minutes of the game, but after that is when North Carolina really took over. The Orange did their job and made the Tar Heels take threes, forcing them to go 0-10 in the first half. However, North Carolina shot very well from inside the three point line. Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks tore up the inside of the 2-3 zone without much opposition. The Heels went into the half with an 11 point lead and never looked back. They upped their offensive play even more in the second half, sending the Orange home and advancing to the National Championship game against Villanova.
Why North Carolina Won
As they were all season, North Carolina was a force on the glass. The Tar Heels outrebounded the Orange 43 to 31. Many of those rebounds for UNC were on the offensive glass. Of their 43 total rebounds 16 came on the offensive end, none more emphatic than Brice Johnson’s put back slam over DaJuan Coleman. However, UNC’s impressive defense was equally important in this victory. From the very beginning of the game, everyone on the North Carolina’s roster played very tight defense. The guards forced Syracuse to take contested threes and bad runners inside. Forwards Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks, and Justin Jackson shut down the paint, not allowing Syracuse’s big men to get anything done.
Star of the Game
Brice Johnson has been a star for the Tar Heels all season and nothing changed in this game. Johnson led his team in both points and rebounds and was instrumental in the victory. He manhandled the Orange bigs inside on his way to 9 rebounds (4 of which being offensive) and 16 total points. Syracuse began to focus on Johnson during the second half which opened up opportunities for other Tar Heel players, like Marcus Paige and Justin Jackson.
Dud of the Game
In his last game for the Orange, Michael Gbinije struggled. The fifth-year senior, who shot just under 40% for the season, went only 5-18 (27.8%) from the field. A typically effective three point shooter, Gbinije missed all of his 5 attempts in this game. This was not the end of Gbinije’s wonderful season and impressive college career that many people expected.
Stat of the Day
Points in the paint really dominated this game. The Tar Heels outscored Syracuse in the paint 50 to 32. UNC almost had as many points in the paint (50) as Syracuse did total (66). If you consistently get the ball inside with ease and dominate the paint like North Carolina did, you put yourself in a very good position to win.
For Syracuse fans: While this loss stings, you have to commend the team for what they accomplished. Going into the tournament, barely anyone expected them to make it to the Sweet Sixteen and no one saw them making it anywhere near the Final Four. They proved to everyone just how talented they are and that they deserved to be in this tournament. You can’t ask for anything more.
For North Carolina fans: The Tar Heels looked better in this game than they have all season. While their three point shooting wasn’t there in the first half, it came together in the second. The defense was solid and the rebounding was very impressive. Everything seems to be clicking at the right time as they head into the championship game. If they keep up this level of play, I can definitely see the Tar Heels cutting down the nets on Monday night.