Syracuse Basketball: In SU’s tough loss to UNC, officiating was horrendous

Syracuse basketball (Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports)
Syracuse basketball (Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports) /

I always try to avoid blaming the officials for a Syracuse basketball setback. I really do. For one, officials are human beings like the rest of us. Their jobs are challenging. They make mistakes, like we all do at times.

And when the Orange fell in a heartbreaking manner, 72-68, to North Carolina on Tuesday night before more than 20,000 fans at the JMA Wireless Dome, the ‘Cuse certainly did some things that didn’t help their cause as they fought back from a second-half, double-digit deficit to be in a position to win this Atlantic Coast Conference clash in the game’s waning minutes.

First and foremost, per ESPN statistics, Syracuse basketball (13-8, 6-4 in the ACC) committed a whopping 17 turnovers, with some of those miscues coming at really inopportune times. The Tar Heels (15-6, 7-3), by the way, had 10 turnovers.

However, putting aside the turnover department, the Orange by and large played a really solid game versus UNC. Syracuse basketball shot around 50 percent from the field, 44 percent from beyond the arc, and won the battle on the boards, which is no easy thing to do against a physical North Carolina group.

But Syracuse basketball had a few rough sequences at the end and missed out on an opportunity to notch a quality win.

For me, the big play came in the final minute or so, when the ‘Cuse was clinging to a two-point lead and had the ball. A shot by the Orange rattled around the rim and didn’t go through. That would have given Syracuse basketball a four-point, two-possession advantage.

Then things got crazy. The ‘Cuse committed a foul, but UNC missed the second free throw. However, senior shooting guard Joe Girard III (who no doubt was hustling here) saved the ball under his own basket, North Carolina intercepted his pass, and the Tar Heels scored to go up by one point.

With 17 seconds left, freshman point guard Judah Mintz drove the lane and committed what the officials deemed an offensive foul and then a flagrant foul. I didn’t think the UNC defender was entirely set, but Mintz did elbow him to the face. Many, many Syracuse basketball fans said that call was BS, and I get it.

I’m on the fence. I thought Mintz’s elbow was a pretty hard hit, but the Tar Heels player, to me, was still moving. In any event, when UNC next inbounded the ball, Mintz was called for a foul (he fouled out there), but a North Carolina player clearly shoved him first.

Therein lies my gripe in this ACC encounter. Syracuse basketball, which plays a zone defense, was whistled for 17 fouls, to just 11 for a bruising UNC squad. North Carolina connected on 14-of-23 from the free-throw line, while the Orange was 2-of-3 from the charity stripe.

That’s the ball game. The ‘Cuse actually made more field goals and 3-pointers than the Tar Heels, but UNC had 12 more points from the stripe in a four-point win.

As I noted, Mintz fouled out. Senior center Jesse Edwards also fouled out, and I counted at least one or two fouls called on him that, from my perspective, were totally suspect. No one on North Carolina fouled out.

Head coach Jim Boeheim called the massive disparity at the free-throw line “unusual.” That’s putting it kindly. Earlier in this contest, Mintz was called for another charge, and I felt that call was absurd.

To me, it’s all about being consistent when it comes to officiating. If you’re going to let teams play physically, let it occur on both sides. I thought that the officials would let a lot of contact go on some occasions, but then use their whistle way too often in other situations. Be consistent.

This loss really hurts, as it was an opportunity for a strong triumph, similar to when Syracuse basketball recently fell at top-25 Miami. Against North Carolina, Girard had 18 points, Mintz collected 17 points, and freshman forward Chris Bell notched 15 points.

The Orange will now have to regroup and get ready for a trip to Blacksburg, Va. Syracuse basketball will play at Virginia Tech this Saturday, Jan. 28, with the tip-off scheduled for 7 pm and television coverage on the ACC Network.

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