Syracuse Basketball: Top takeaways as 'Cuse stuns No. 7 North Carolina for quad-one win

Syracuse basketball, which had gotten crushed at UNC last month, stunned No. 7 North Carolina at home on Tuesday night.
Syracuse basketball, which had gotten crushed at UNC last month, stunned No. 7 North Carolina at home on Tuesday night. / Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse basketball had eight scholarship players available on Tuesday night in Central New York against No. 7 North Carolina. The Tar Heels, last month in Chapel, N.C., handed the Orange its worst-ever league loss since joining the Atlantic Coast Conference in the 2013-14 season.

The 'Cuse front-court, exceptionally thin, faced a huge challenge in trying to contain UNC's physicality on the glass, particularly All-American candidate Armando Bacot, an exeptional graduate student power forward/center.

Entering this ACC clash, Syracuse basketball was a 7.5-point betting underdog. The bevy of 'Cuse fans felt this might prove another blowout on Tuesday evening. I even went on the radio in Syracuse, N.Y., on Tuesday morning and predicted an Orange setback.

I was wrong. I usually am. Syracuse basketball did a Syracuse basketball thing, that is, defy the odds and pull out a stunner when most of us - if not all of us - didn't believe the team could do it, or at least would do it.

In this quadrant-one opportunity for the 'Cuse, Orange players kept fighting, kept grinding, kept hustling and didn't waver in their pursuit of a marquee triumph in the 2023-24 season, one that has come with numerous challenges and a lot of adversity to contend with of late.

The outcome was a glorious one for my alma mater, as Syracuse basketball upset the top-10 Tar Heels by a final count of 86-79, in the signature success for first-year head coach Adrian Autry to date in 2023-24. This result doesn't put the 'Cuse on the right side of the proverbial bubble for the 2024 NCAA Tournament, but it's a step in the right direction.

My key observations as Syracuse basketball defeated No. 7 North Carolina on the Hill.

•The Orange showed a lot of heart. UNC crushed the 'Cuse in January. The Tar Heels dominated SU on the glass. On Tuesday night, sophomore center Peter Carey was unavailable for the second straight game, as he was "in concussion protocol," according to a post on X from the team. That meant sophomore big man Maliq Brown didn't have a lot of guys behind him, save for junior Mounir Hima. It was an emotional last 10 days or so. The Orange got destroyed at Wake Forest, and Autry ripped his squad good. Then junior forward Benny Williams was dismissed from the program, the 'Cuse squeaked out a two-point home win over Louisville, then Syracuse basketball faltered down the stretch and lost to Clemson at the JMA Wireless Dome, with former SU guard Joe Girard going off. For the 'Cuse to do what it did on Tuesday evening to North Carolina, a team vying for a No. 1 or a No. 2 seed in this spring's Big Dance, took guts.

•The Orange's starting backcourt, sophomore point guard Judah Mintz and J.J. Starling, combined for 48 points. They each played all 40 minutes.

•Sophomore forward Chris Bell had 13 points and made a trio of shots from deep. Brown registered 14 points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and one block. Sophomore wing Quadir Copeland tallied eight points, three boards, two assists and several huge steals. Hima only played six minutes, and redshirt sophomore guard Kyle Cuffe Jr. didn't get on the court, meaning that Syracuse basketball beat UNC with basically six guys.

•In mid-January, when the Orange fell at North Carolina, 103-67, the 'Cuse was out-rebounded by a massive 53-30. So, undeniably, the glass would be a concern and a huge part of Tuesday night's game. UNC still won on the boards, but not by nearly as much, 31-23.

•This is an obvious statement, but when the 'Cuse shoots well, great things happen. Against the Tar Heels, Syracuse basketball connected on 63 percent from the field, 47 percent from beyond the arc and 72 percent from the free-throw line. North Carolina made 49 percent from the field, 44 percent from long range and 82 percent from the charity stripe. At the free-throw line, the Orange scored nine more points than UNC, and that was huge.

•I thought that Autry did a wonderful job of mixing up his defensive schemes, using a lot more zone than he has throughout 2023-24 but also playing some man defense. It kept the Tar Heels' offense a bit out of rhythm. Syracuse basketball, by and large, controlled the pace, leading for 80 percent of this conference encounter.

•In various statistical categories, UNC led 19-11 in assists, 10-8 in bench points, 18-9 in fast-break points, and 18-3 in second-chance points. The Orange, conversely, led 11-8 in turnovers forced and 10-4 in steals. The teams were tied at 1-1 in blocks, 15-15 in points off turnovers, and 32-32 in paint points.

•The 'Cuse snapped a three-game losing streak to North Carolina, although the Tar Heels still lead their all-time series, 17-7.

•Following this recent three-contest home stand, when the 'Cuse went 2-1, Syracuse basketball heads out on the road for two ACC affairs in a row. Next up, the Orange will travel to Atlanta to face Georgia Tech on Saturday, Feb. 17, beginning at 5:30 pm and with television coverage on The CW Network.

•This was just a beautiful effort from Syracuse basketball, and it was a season-defining win for the program. I also enjoyed seeing fans storm the court after the 'Cuse had stunned the Tar Heels.

Syracuse Basketball: 2024 class, while small in size, ranks in the top 20 nationwide. Syracuse Basketball: 2024 class, while small in size, ranks in the top 20 nationwide. dark. Next