CHAPEL HILL - North Carolina finally didn't need a last-second shot to secure a win. The Tar Heels held off Syracuse for an 81-75 victory Tuesday in the Dean E. Smith Center.
The game had such an ebb and flow that when Carolina (8-4, 3-2 ACC) led 67-60, it seemed expected that Syracuse would rally. The Orange scored eight straight to take a one-point lead with 3:21 remaining.
Here's where it may be a good thing: each of the Tar Heels' previous four ACC games have been within one possession with 30 seconds left. Their wins over Notre Dame and Miami depended on making shots in the last 10 seconds.
"I don't think we had any panic," UNC coach Roy Williams said in his postgame remarks. "We've been talking all season about finishing."
Freshman Day'Ron Sharpe made a pair of bonus free throws to put UNC ahead for good at 69-68 with 3:00 left. Garrison Brooks, who led the Heels with 16 points, added a pair of free throws the next trip down.
It was a much-needed breakout game for Brooks. His 10 rebounds gave him his first double-double of the season. Williams made it a point to say Brooks' attitude has been perfect even when his play hasn't been.
Brooks struggled shooting from the field the past three games, going a combined 7-for-21 from the floor. Williams got wind that some in the media called out Brooks for having bad body language in their win over Miami and was adamant that was not the case.
"He did not have bad body language," Williams said. "That's who Garrison is. He's a very stoic kid."
What seemed to solidify the game was when Armando Bacot had the chance for a three-point play as his basket made the score 73-70. Bacot missed his free throw, but Andrew Platek was there for the rebound.
And after R.J. Davis missed a 3-pointer, Bacot corralled the ball for a putback and a 75-70 lead with 58 seconds left. Bacot finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds.
Carolina dominated the boards, claiming 24 offensive rebounds which it converted into 24 points.
Here are earlier updates:
Heels shake off cold streak
Carolina jumped out to a 49-40 lead after intermission, then went cold from the field. It had one possession where, thanks to its aggression on the offensive boards, it had six shot attempts. But didn't make any. The Heels made just four of their first 18 shots in the second half and that drought opened the way for the Orange to rally.
Freshmen Davis and Sharpe helped the Heels work their way out of their shooting slump. Davis made a 3-pointer when Garrison Brooks passed out of the heart of the zone to the right wing, a shot that Puff Johnson missed on the exact same play a possession prior.
The shot ignited Davis, who's been battling his own shooting conundrums and entered the game having made just nine of his last 38 shots. Davis got two steals that led to baskets and forced another turnover on a Joe Girard pass out of bounds.
When Davis wasn't scoring, Sharpe was, as he bullied in the paint for a pair of baskets. When Bacot scored to break up Davis and Sharpe's scoring spurt, Carolina had a 64-56 lead with 8:08 left.
Orange, Heels tied at the half
The Tar Heels grabbed a 10-point lead at 36-26 with 4:21 left in the first half only to watch Buddy Boeheim shoot the Orange out of their deficit. Boeheim scored 18 points — including four 3-pointers — to help Syracuse tie the game at 40.
Quincy Guerrier blocked a last-second shot by Bacot to ensure the Heels didn't re-take the lead before intermission.
Brooks led the Heels with 14 points in the first half, which was the most he'd scored since recording 17 against Iowa on Dec. 8.
Carolina seemed to handle the Syracuse zone. Of its 15 made baskets, nine were scored off assists. In its last eight regular-season meetings, which were all won by UNC, it had assists on at least 60 percent of its made baskets.
Garrison Brooks finds his rhythm
Brooks, the UNC senior forward, entered the game slumping offensively. He hadn't scored in double figures since the Tar Heels loss to N.C. State and he was 7-of-21 shooting from the field the last three games before Syracuse. His scoring slump happened to coincide with being taken out of the starting lineup. He was back in it tonight and it has immediately paid off for the Heels. Brooks had eight of Carolina's first 23 points on 3-of-6 shooting and added three rebounds and an assist.
North Carolina used its fifth different starting lineup in as many games: Caleb Love, Kerwin Walton, Leaky Black, Bacot and Brooks. It was the first time in the last three games that Sharpe came off the bench.
Syracuse started Alan Griffin, Quincy Guerrier, Girard III, Marek Dolezaj and Boeheim.
Tar Heels vs. Orange, 10 days late
North Carolina hadn't played since its 67-65 win at Miami a week ago.
The Tar Heels were initially supposed to play the Orange on Jan. 2. That game was postponed when players from Buffalo, who Syracuse beat on Dec. 19, tested positive for COVID-19.
Tuesday's game was only possible when Clemson, who was scheduled to play the Heels on Jan. 9 and the Orange on Jan. 12, had to put its program on pause and postpone games when it entered into COVID protocols.