By Adam Lucas
1. It might not have come through as well on TV, but that was a very, very difficult game to win in Syracuse. Carolina escapes with a 72-68 win and has now won 10 out of 12.
2. RJ Davis is going to need that weekend off. The Tar Heel guard bounced around all night, suffering a shot to the head and an injured finger but still standing his ground to draw a crucial offensive foul in the closing seconds. Davis was still being worked on after the game by the Tar Heel training staff.
3. Carolina’s passing in the first dozen minutes was exquisite. The Heels had an assist on the first ten baskets of the game and were carving up the Syracuse zone. For the game, they finished with 20 assists on 26 field goals. Davis and Caleb Love had five pieces.
4. Pete Nance was important around the middle of that 2-3 zone. Nance found a soft spot, as many Carolina big men have done, around the ACC logo near the free throw line. He wasn’t extremely efficient, going 6-for-17, but he did score 21 points and was a dangerous offensive threat in that spot as he showed the ability to shoot, drive or pass.
5. Nance also hit a clutch free throw with 21.4 seconds left and then reaped the benefits of the Heels hitting the offensive glass, as Leaky Black and Armando Bacot combined to force a loose ball that bounded to Nance, who scored to give UNC the lead that they did not relinquish.
6. Davis drawing the offensive foul will draw most of the attention, but he also played very good defense on Mintz on the previous possession, when the Orange very clearly wanted Mintz to get a shot. He eventually got it, but Davis bothered him enough for it to be a miss.
7. Some good minutes from Tyler Nickel off the Carolina bench. Nickel played 12 minutes and hit a three-pointer and had a very loud block on Mintz that thwarted a Syracuse fast break. The Tar Heel bench continues to rotate in players who, from game to game, find a way to contribute–and it’s someone different every night.
8. Caleb Love’s shooting looked much better in the first half, when he nailed three three-pointers. Love took just seven field goal attempts and scored 15 points. He also made six trips to the free throw line, making four. He wasn’t looking for his shot much in the second half, but considering the chatter over how aggressive he usually is offensively, it’s tough to complain about not shooting. He also made three of four key free throws with under 11 seconds to go.
9. Syracuse took just three free throws, which will certainly be a point of discussion. There were too many reviews that went on too long in this game, but a positive was that the crew set the tone for what was and wasn’t going to be called early and mostly stuck with it. A lot of post contact went unwhistled, but it stayed that way throughout the night.
10. Carolina forced 17 Cuse turnovers and turned it into 21 points. Nine of those came via UNC steals, with four from Nance.
11. Great time for some time off. Carolina can hopefully get Puff Johnson healthy (who missed a second straight game with a knee injury) and now must attend to RJ Davis. The Heels don’t play again until a home date with Pitt on Feb. 1.