Syracuse's surprising NCAA Tournament run has come to an end in the Final Four. The Orange were knocked out by fellow ACC nemesis North Carolina when the Tar Heels ran out to an 83-66 win. Roy Williams' squad is heading to the national title game for the ninth time in school history, and the first time since 2009.
The game started off back-and-forth, with neither team gaining an obvious advantage early in the first half. The Tar Heels particularly struggled with their three-point shot, missing their first nine attempts from beyond the arc. But despite UNC's shooting struggles, it was still pulling off neat plays, such as this Brice Johnson tip-in dunk.
UNC eventually stropped trying to force three-pointers and focused more on driving to the rim and challenging Syracuse's zone defense. The result was a 15-6 run to give the Tar Heels a double-digit lead late in the first half. They went into halftime with the 39-28 lead. Despite their lack of three-point shots, the Tar Heels still shot 48.6 percent from the field, compared to just 35.5 percent for Syracuse. Johnson had eight points and Kennedy Meeks led his team with nine at the break.
The Orange's tournament run has been defined by improbable comebacks from massive deficits. But the Tar Heels tried to make sure they wouldn't suffer the same fate, coming out fast in the second half and forcing multiple turnovers in a row. Their transition offense remained just as smooth as it was in the first half.
UNC led by as many as 16 points at one point, but Syracuse rattled off a quick 8-2 run to cut the deficit to 10. However, the Orange's rally was quickly cut off and the Tar Heels kept them at arm's length. Syracuse tried using the same full-court press that flummoxed Virginia in the Elite Eight, but UNC had an answer for it nearly every time, which often led to even faster points. The dagger was provided by Marcus Paige, who hit one of just three three-pointers for his team to give UNC the 77-64 lead with less than three minutes left. The Orange never found a way back after that moment.
Johnson and Justin Jackson led the Tar Heels with 16 points each, while Meeks wasn't far behind with 15 points. UNC finished the game with a 53.8 field goal percentage, even with its poor three-point shooting (4-of-17). Trevor Cooney led the Orange with 22 points and Malachi Richardson had 17, despite struggling with foul trouble.
The Tar Heels and Villanova will square off for the national title on Monday, and Williams' team is the slight favorite early on. UNC hasn't lost a final-round game since 1981, having lifted the trophy on its last four appearances.
BetOnline has already opened #UNC -2.5 vs. #Villanova for the National Championship Game.— Sports Insights (@SportsInsights) April 3, 2016
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