With heavy hearts around the program following the death of the team’s longtime play-by-play voice Woody Durham, UNC opened its ACC Tournament run in Brooklyn on Wednesday night with a 78-59 victory over the Syracuse Orange.
A balanced offensive effort paired with stifling defense on the other end helped the Tar Heels (23-9, 12-7 ACC) advance to the Quarterfinals without ever really being seriously threatened.
Kenny Williams led the team with 17 points, Theo Pinson added 16 and each of the five UNC starters scored at least eight.
The Tar Heels took the lead for good midway through the first half, and ultimately extended the margin to 10 points at halftime.
Syracuse (20-13, 8-11 ACC) then struggled to keep up as the game wore on mainly due to its inability to score inside the three-point line. Although the Orange converted on eight of their 23 attempts from long range, they made just 12 of their 40 two-point shots and didn’t record a single basket on the fastbreak.
This allowed UNC to lead by as many as 20 points during the second half, on the way to its second victory over Syracuse in less than a month’s time.
A brief run from the Orange late in the second half saw them pull within nine points—causing Tar Heel head coach Roy Williams to take off his suit jacket and attempt to rip it in half unsuccessfully.
From there, however, UNC pulled together and closed things out strong—which let their coach eventually find humor in his brief sideline meltdown.
“I did not do it properly,” Williams told reporters after the game. “I started around the collar where it’s folded over so the material is twice as strong. If you really want to rip a jacket in half, start at the back of the bottom where it’s already split.”
The win also snapped a two-game losing streak for the Tar Heels, which was the reason they slipped into the tournament’s No. 6 seed to begin with.
Instead of earning a double-bye straight into the quarterfinals—a luxury given to the top four seeds—UNC is now on a path that will require four wins in four days to win the whole thing.
Syracuse might not be as talented as the teams like Duke, Virginia and Miami—the Tar Heels’ quarterfinal opponent—but a win is a win and momentum appears to be back on UNC’s side.
Kenny Williams spoke for the whole team afterwards when he described their current mentality.
“We knew we had to come in and take care of business,” Kenny Williams said. “We never talk about, ‘Oh, we’ve lost two in a row so we’ve gotta get this one.’
“But we know its March,” he continued. “It’s tournament time. And after the last game, everyone’s been saying, ‘It’s go time.’ I think everybody had a little extra pep in their step tonight.”
UNC will face No. 3 seed Miami on Thursday in a game scheduled to tip at approximately 9:30 p.m. It will be a rematch of the Tar Heels’ senior night on Feb. 27, when Ja’Quan Newton’s buzzer beater from just inside halfcourt gave Miami a thrilling 91-88 victory.
- The Tar Heels held Syracuse guards Tyus Battle and Frank Howard to a combined 8-for-39 shooting performance from the floor.
- Pinson added 11 rebounds and six assists in addition to his 16 points for UNC.
- UNC also assisted on 20 of its 25 made shots.
Cover photo via Julie Jacobson (Associated Press)