North Carolina still has Syracuse’s number.
The Tar Heels had to wait all day at the ACC tournament but in the final game of the second round, they handled the Orange 78-59 to move into the quarterfinals.
UNC (23-9) will face Miami (22-8) on Thursday after its seventh straight win over Syracuse. Junior guard Kenny Williams (17 points) led the Tar Heels, who quickly turned a 10-point halftime lead into an 18-point cushion early in the second half.
It was a long and emotional day for Carolina. Early on Wednesday, legendary play-by-play announcer Woody Durham passed away. There was a moment of silence before the game for Durham, who was 76, and was the “voice of the Tar Heels” for 41 years. The UNC players had the name “Woody” on the back of their warmup jerseys.
As the No. 6 seed, UNC had to wait until 9:47 p.m. to play its first tournament game. The Heels looked very much like the team that has owned March in the past two years.
Senior Theo Pinson had 16 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. The Heels used an 11-0 run — after Syracuse had cut UNC’s lead to 20-19 with 10:10 left in the first half — to take control of the game.
Just like last Saturday’s game at Duke, UNC held the opponent to less than 30 points and led by 10 points at the half. Unlike the loss at Duke, UNC didn’t go cold in the second half.
Senior guard Joel Berry, who had missed all seven of his 3-pointers at Duke and then the first four on Wednesday, buried a 3 at 19:11 in the second half. Syracuse big man Pascal Chukwu fouled out at 16:26 in the second half and less than a minute later, Williams nailed a 3 to push UNC’s margin to 51-33.
The Orange (20-13) needed Wednesday’s game to cement its NCAA tournament resume. The Tar Heels just needed it to feel better after a mini-slump. UNC hadn’t won a game since a 78-74 win at the Carrier Dome on Feb. 21.
The heartbreaking loss at the buzzer to Miami followed and the second-half collapse at Duke. But March has been UNC’s time since 2016. The Heels are 16-2 in the postseason since then. Now they get a chance to pay Miami back for last Tuesday’s loss in Chapel Hill.