Pete Nance, RJ Davis Rescue UNC in Escape at Syracuse

UNC forward Pete Nance shoots over Syracuse center Jesse Edwards. (Photo: Jim Hawkins / Inside Carolina)

SYRACUSE, NY — Through the ups and downs of building leads and then having them evaporate, North Carolina did just enough to overcome a challenging environment and make Tuesday night a success. The Tar Heels topped Syracuse 72-68 in ACC basketball at the lively JMA Wireless Dome, with forward Pete Nance and guard RJ Davis swooping in during the chaotic closing seconds to deliver this eventful victory, a late-game escape for UNC.

Nance went to the foul line with 21.4 seconds remaining and the Tar Heels trailing 68-66. He hit the first free throw and missed the second, but suddenly he had the ball underneath and scored the go-ahead lay-in. Syracuse guard Joseph Girard III made a diving save on the baseline after neither team corralled Nance’s missed free throw, and the ball went right to Nance. UNC led 69-68 with 17.7 seconds left.

Davis then came up with a crucial defensive stop that bloodied his face and left him down on the court, writhing in pain. The Orange had to go the length of the court in that situation, and Syracuse guard Judah Mintz crashed full steam into Davis with 10.7 seconds to go, an offensive foul on Mintz that was upgraded to a Flagrant 1 upon video replay review by the game officials. . The charging Mintz caught Davis with an elbow to the face. Caleb Love went 3-for-4 on free throws from there, as UNC sealed the outcome.

Nance, in his third game back from a strained back, played the entirety and logged all 40 minutes. He scored 21 points, but went 6-for-17 from the field while attempting to navigate the soft in-between spots in Syracuse’s trademark zone defense under longtime coach Jim Boeheim.

Armando Bacot added 18 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Love contributed 15 points and five assists for the Tar Heels (15-6 overall, 7-3 ACC), who have won four straights and 10 of their last 12 games. UNC secured its second win on the road this season. The Tar Heels recorded 20 assists on their 26 made field goals Tuesday night.

Girard’s 18 points, Mintz’s 17 points, and Chris Bell’s 15 points paced Syracuse (13-8, 6-4). Jesse Edwards, the Orange center with the 7-foot-4 wingspan, had eight points, seven rebounds and five blocked shots. He was affected by foul trouble and fouled out on the play that sent Nance to the free throw line with 21.4 seconds remaining. Mintz fouled out at the 10.7-second mark.

Earlier, Girard’s pump fake sent UNC forward Leaky Black flying by, and Girard drilled the resulting open look for his fourth 3-pointer of the night to vault Syracuse in front 68-66 with 1:23 left. That bomb from beyond the arc had this domed building rocking.

UNC led for 36:42 of game time, while Syracuse led for just 1:41. The Tar Heels went ahead by as many as nine points during the first half and were up 56-46 in the second half, when Bacot’s dunk and Nance’s corner 3-pointer capped an 8-0 burst. UNC ultimately weathered foul trouble creeping in on Bacot, a shaken-up Davis spending several second-half stretches getting tended to on the bench, and the rowdiness of the 20,761 spectators here.

Caleb Love perks up in first half

Love’s shooting struggles didn’t follow him here to a snowy New York state. He drained a pair of 3-pointers during the game’s first 4½ minutes, and might’ve been on the way to a bigger first half if not for two offensive fouls that sent him to the UNC bench for a stretch.

His early flurry from deep helped the Tar Heels open a 13-4 lead out of the gate to start the night. He knew the second launch was good, confidently getting into a backpedal before the shot swished through the net.

Love scored nine first-half points on 3-for-3 shooting from 3-point range. He made all three on catch-and-shoots set up by passes, rather than pulling off the dribble. Nance found him wide open for a clean look from straight on, and Love buried that shot for a 20-13 Tar Heels’ lead.

Have another and another

After totaling just five assists during its victory against NC State three days prior, UNC already had handed out six assists during the first 5:08 of game time here Tuesday night.

And the dishes kept piling up. The Tar Heels registered an assist on each of their first 10 buckets against Syracuse. By halftime, they had distributed 14 assists on their 16 field goals, after Black fed the running Bacot in transition for a big dunk that put UNC ahead 38-32 in the final minute of the first half. Generating offense was more challenging in the second half, but the Tar Heels still finished the game with 20 assists on their 26 made field goals.

Next on the schedule

North Carolina catches a break in the ACC schedule after Tuesday night’s victory and doesn’t play again until next week on Feb. 1, with Pittsburgh’s visit to Chapel Hill, NC UNC will have seven days off between the Syracuse and Pitt games.

It’ll be a Wednesday-Saturday turnaround for the Tar Heels next week from the Pitt game at the Smith Center to their first meeting of the season with rival Duke, on Feb. 4 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

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