The North Carolina Tar Heels put an end to the Syracuse Orange’s miraculous run and advance to the National Championship after an 83-66 victory.
“As far as what I feel about this year, I’m more satisfied than I’ve ever been in any year that I’ve ever coached, with the possible of exception the year we won it all,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said. “But other than that year, I’m more proud and more happy, whatever the word is I’m looking for, satisfied, with what this team has done than any year that I’ve ever coached.”
Just like the game before it, this one wasn’t much to write home about after a close start to the first half busted wide open to a double-digit lead.
Syracuse tied the game 18-18 with 8:14 left in the first, and it would be the last time they were that close. UNC went on a 9-0 run for the next three minutes, and they wouldn’t look back.
Despite going 0-10 from the three in the half, the Tar Heels would dismantle Syracuse’s zone by attacking the rim and getting 26 points in the paint in the first.
“I wrote down three things on the board tonight,” North Carolina head coach Roy Williams said. “The first one was: Attack their defense with great spacing and great movement and great offensive rebounding, ’cause we played Syracuse before and we had some success at Syracuse by getting the ball inside, perhaps more than we did in Chapel Hill.”
The Tar Heels went into the locker room up 39-28.
The second half didn’t look different for either team.
UNC continued to hold a balanced offensive attack, getting four starters in double-digit scoring and continued to pound the paint.
“That’s what kind of team we are,” North Carolina’s Joel Berry II said. “We’re all about making a good play, whether it’s someone else going or you getting a basket yourself. But overall it just shows the balance that our team has on the offensive end.”
Berry (eight points), the one starter who didn’t get into double digits, had a game-high 10 assists.
Syracuse would get good games out of both Trevor Cooney and Malachi Richardson, 22 and 17 points, respectively, on 50% shooting, but Carolina had an answer for the rest of the team.
The Orange was held to just 41% from the field and 32% from three. They would also leave nine easy points at the free-throw line, shooting 4-13 from the stripe.
“The ironic thing in the tournament is we’ve not played well on offense in any game we played.” Boeheim said. “It’s ironic that we could be here shooting 41% from the field in five tournament games. I just think they have a lot of heart.”
Syracuse would continue to play with heart and make the game interesting with a little less than 10 minutes left in the game.
Richardson hit a three to make it a seven-point game, but, of course, this would lead to a Marcus Paige (13 pts.) three- UNC’s first of the game. After exchanged buckets, Theo Pinson would put the Orange away for good with a three of his own.
“That’s when we needed our press to work, we needed our traps to work,” Syracuse’s Cooney said. “We weren’t able to make those plays. If we were able to make those plays, we would have got back into it, but we just weren’t able to make those.”
UNC made only 4-17 from three for 24%, but they shot 53% from the field. They also won the rebounding battle, 43-31, the assist battle, 18-5, and dominated the paint, 50-32.
The Tar Heels will need that ambition when they face a Villanova team that blew out a very good Oklahoma team by 44 just moments before their game.
“We’re going to have the same attitude that we had tonight in Syracuse,” North Carolina’s Brice Johnson said. “They held one of the best players in the country to little or nothing today. They all play together. They space the floor. We’ve just got to go out there and play.”
They will face Villanova on Monday in Houston for the National Championship.