After North Carolina held on to defeat Syracuse 72-68 on Tuesday night, former Tar Heel point guard and Inside Carolina analyst Dewey Burke shared his five key takeaways from the tough road win …
1. Had to Have It: Looking at our schedule, this was a game we had to have, somewhat like we’ve talked about year after year with the game before Christmas. With eight days between games, you would have hated to lose on the road and have that long to stew over it. Now, we go into a break period with momentum and can focus on health. We need Puff Johnson back for the stretch run. Armando Bacot can get his ankle and shoulder maybe back to 100%. Assume RJ Davis is ok. Let’s go on a run now.
2. Caleb Love: He was terrific. I’ve held out hope that he would snap out of his slump. We talked about this on The Postgame podcast after the NC State game… maybe the Syracuse zone was a good remedy for a struggling shooter. I stated that maybe he could make five threes. Well he made three, but it was three in a row and not only that, he played under control all night. He only really forced one bad shot, and that was late in the shot clock in the second half. I thought both first half charge calls on him were weak, especially the second one. Those were his only turnovers – no careless ones where he didn’t value the basketball. Five assists, made free throws. To do anything close to what we did last year, we must have this Caleb Love.
3. Nance’s Aggression: It was evident that part of our game plan was to get the ball to Pete Nance at the high post, and hope he would be aggressive and assertive. He was. I know he shot a poor percentage, but just being WILLING to take more shots and/or attack the rim changes how teams defend us. Pete being an aggressive participant on offense takes a lot of pressure off Armando. He must become a consistent 4th option for us to be successful. He cannot disappear, and there were times during the State game you didn’t remember he was even out there. Not tonight. He’s going to be so key to our stretch run.
4. Zone Discipline: Playing against the matchup zone does not typically allow you to run many sets or called plays. You must move yourself and the ball intelligently. You need to attack the gaps with the dribble and find the soft spots of the zone with the pass. The ball must move crisply to get the zone behind in its rotations — 20 assists on 26 baskets tells us that we were successful in doing that. The game plan was sound, we got the ball to Pete in the high post, and we shared the ball. It’s never easy to win in that gym and they are a funky team to prepare for. We did a solid job. If anything, I would’ve wanted RJ to hunt his own shot more than he did because he’s so hot… but we found a way to get a win in a tough environment.
5. Taking the Freebies: If someone told me before the game that Syracuse would outrebound us by five and shoot a better percentage from both the field and 3… I would tell you I didn’t feel great about our chances of winning on the road. A major difference was the free throw line. We got there 23 times to their three. We have a post presence — and tonight had two bigs make a difference — and they really don’t on the offensive end. They are very perimeter oriented and take a lot of threes and midrange shots… and as such, didn’t get to the line. We did, and it was a major difference.