Syracuse's hustle and strong defense lead to victory over North Carolina

Coach Jim Boeheim credited the win over the ACC foe to the Orange’s nonstop effort on defense.

When it came to the ACC, the Orange knew it would have to compete with plenty of new faces. But the big question was how it would fare against the conference’s blue blood programs.

On Saturday, the No. 2 Syracuse (16-0, 3-0) passed the first of those tests with authority, defeating North Carolina (10-6,0-3) 57-45.

Neither team shot particularly well from the field, with the Orange hitting 35 percent of their shots and the Tar Heels shooting only slightly better at 39.2 percent. Coach Jim Boeheim credited the win to the team’s nonstop effort on defense and going after loose balls.

“This was a defensive effort game," Boeheim said. "We got loose balls, we got on the floor, we made a lot of really good hustle plays. We got a lot of extra possessions in this game, and I thought that was really the difference.”

Boeheim mentioned Trevor Cooney in particular as one player who won the ball for the Orange in key situations. Cooney had a rough shooting night, going 4-for-17 from the field and 2-for-12 from the three-point line, but he was able to contribute in other ways.

“Almost every loose ball was ours, and those are the plays that are going to win the game,” Cooney said.

Tyler Ennis’s game was a bit uncharacteristic as well with a career-high four turnovers. But the freshman guard finished the game with 10 points, seven assists, and was still able to drive through Carolina’s defense when needed, creating easy opportunities for both himself and others.

Ennis acknowledged Cooney’s shooting woes but also looked at it as a sign of how balanced the team is.

“It says we have a lot of weapons,” Ennis said of the team winning despite its second leading scorer shooting a low percentage.

Boeheim said the team’s two main focuses going into the game were to get back on defense and to rebound. The Orange did a good job of both, limiting North Carolina to 10 fast break points and outrebounding the Tar Heels 41-35. North Carolina came into the game averaging nearly 15 offensive rebounds per game but managed 10 Saturday. On the other hand, the Orange were able to grab 17 offensive boards, which led to 12 second chance points.

Syracuse also tried to pinpoint Marcus Paige and Leslie McDonald, North Carolina’s two main threats from long-range. They held the duo to 2-for-9 shooting from beyond the arc.

“We came in with a good game plan defensively,” Cooney said.

North Carolina jumped out to a quick 10-4 lead in the game’s first five minutes. James Michael McAdoo was the catalyst for the Tar Heels in the early going, scoring eight of their first 10 points off of foul line jumpers in the middle of Syracuse’s zone and a pair of dunks in transition.

Syracuse altered its defense quickly and started making life difficult for the Tar Heels inside. Rakeem Christmas and Jerami Grant were the difference makers on defense, combining for 20 rebounds and six blocks.

“We feed off each other’s energy,” Grant said of his play with Christmas.

C.J. Fair noted North Carolina’s preference for working inside out on the offensive end, something the Orange prevented for the most part.

“They like to get the ball inside and dominate from there, but we didn’t let them,” Fair said.

Fair led the Orange with 20 points, and helped spark a 10-0 run that gave the Orange their first lead of the game midway through the first half. His three-pointer at the 10:34 mark of the first half, his only of the game, gave Syracuse a 16-15 lead, its first of the game. The Orange kept the Tar Heels at an arm’s length the rest of the way, never relinquishing the lead.

Grant pointed to Fair’s three as the game-changing moment.

“After that,” he said, “there was no looking back.”

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