No. 3 North Carolina out to avoid letdown at Syracuse

This season’s first matchup between North Carolina and Syracuse did not go well for the Orange.

At least this time, the Orange get the third-ranked Tar Heels on their home court when the Atlantic Coast Conference foes meet on Tuesday.

North Carolina (19-5, 11-2 ACC) walloped Syracuse 103-67 on Jan. 13 when the teams squared off in Chapel Hill, N.C. RJ Davis scored 22 points, while Armando Bacot chipped in 16 points and 11 rebounds and Harrison Ingram (11 points, 10 boards) notched a double-double of his own.

“They played with a lot of emotion today. I was really proud of their effort,” North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said after the one-sided victory. “We talked about dominating points in the paint. As good as Syracuse is, they’re limited in the frontcourt, and so, we wanted to get the ball inside.”

Indeed, the Tar Heels dominated in the paint and hammered the Orange on the glass, 53-30. Syracuse (15-9, 6-7) certainly hopes to correct those trends Tuesday despite another rough rebounding performance in its last game.

The Orange grabbed only 24 rebounds to Clemson’s 41 in Saturday’s 77-68 defeat. Only one Syracuse player (Maliq Brown, eight) had more than four rebounds in a game where the Orange shot just 39.1 percent from the field and 7-of-23 (30.4 percent) from the 3-point line, meaning there certainly were plenty of rebounds to grab.

JJ Starling and Chris Bell led the way for the Orange with 16 points apiece, while Judah Mintz added 14 points on 6-of-18 shooting. Syracuse rallied from a 15-point deficit to tie the game in the final minutes before Clemson pulled away down the stretch.

“Our last four minutes, when we battled so well to get back in, our discipline on both sides of the game was not there,” Syracuse coach Adrian Autry said, adding that “it’s us” who is responsible for the lapses in key moments.

Obviously, mental lapses and physical errors are not a recipe for success against the Tar Heels, who sit alone in first place in the ACC standings. North Carolina lost to Clemson in a surprising home setback last week before bouncing back in a 75-72 road triumph against Miami.

Davis led the way against Miami with 25 points, while Bacot posted 10 points and 15 rebounds and Elliot Cadeau contributed 19 points and eight assists.

North Carolina, like Syracuse, is seeking a better performance in the waning minutes of close games.

“The last three to four minutes, we have to be better, but I’m glad we got out with a win in an environment like this,” Bacot said. “To beat them and to beat them here is amazing.”

The Tar Heels will look to remain focused as they continue an eight-game stretch against unranked opponents. Their next ranked foe is Duke, on the road, in the regular-season finale.

“I like 20-point wins — that would be great — but Miami’s a really good team,” Hubert Davis said after his team’s latest victory.

Looking ahead, the Tar Heels coach would like to see some improved shooting from RJ Davis, who is 18-of-55 (32.7 percent) from the field over the last three games.

North Carolina holds a 17-6 advantage in the all-time series with Syracuse.

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