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Syracuse knocks off No. 7 North Carolina for first win over top-10 foe since 2019

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Syracuse fans stormed the floor inside the JMA Wireless Dome on Tuesday in celebration after the Orange beat No. 7 North Carolina 86-79 for the program’s first win over a top-10 foe since 2019. Judah Mintz led Syracuse (16-9, 7-7 ACC) with 25 points, while J.J. Starling added 23.

The sophomore duo scored 29 of Syracuse’s 44 points in the second half as the Orange shot 62.5% from the floor as a team. It was the program’s best shooting performance in a game since it shot 71.5% in a win over DePaul in 2011.

North Carolina (19-6, 11-3) led 65-64 after an RJ Davis layup with 7:16 remaining. But Starling responded with a 3-pointer to give Syracuse a lead that it never relinquished. The Orange never led by less than four points in the final five minutes as they kept the Tar Heels at bay behind a steady stream of points from Mintz and Starling.

Davis led North Carolina with 19 points while Cormac Ryan contributed 14. Syracuse snapped a three-game losing streak to UNC with the win, avenging a 103-67 road loss to the Tar Heels from earlier in the season. The Orange are now 9-0 when shooting 47% or better from the floor, which includes a 4-0 mark against league foes. 

UNC cooling off

This marked the third loss in the last five games for North Carolina as the Tar Heels have cooled off since a 17-3 (9-0) start. Interspersed in that stretch is a 93-84 win over Duke and a 75-72 win at Miami on Saturday. The other losses came at Georgia Tech and at home to Clemson. Before the Georgia Tech loss — which was a Quad 3 loss — UNC had not suffered a defeat outside of Quad 1. Now, it has two such losses as Tuesday night’s game landed in Quad 2 for the Tar Heels.

North Carolina hasn’t completely gone off the rails, but it is returning to Earth after it looked ready to run away with the ACC title. There are a few factors at play. For one, Davis’ shooting percentages are down a touch over the past five games after he carried UNC during much of the season’s first half. Tuesday’s loss was also an obvious example of how UNC’s defense has slipped some after a great start.

UNC’s rocky recent play is bringing intrigue to the ACC title race. The Tar Heels are now tied with Duke (19-5, 10-3) in the loss column of the conference standings, though UNC maintains a tiebreaker on the Blue Devils for now by virtue of its head-to-head win. Virginia (19-6, 10-4) also remains squarely in the league title mix, even after its eight-game winning streak was snapped by Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

Syracuse has a moment

Syracuse doesn’t have much of an at-large case for the NCAA Tournament after dropping three of its previous four games entering Tuesday night. But the victory is still a big win for the program under first-year coach Adrian Autry. The joint performance from Mintz and Starling was a tantalizing glimpse at who the Orange could be over the next couple seasons if the two sophomores stay at Syracuse. In fact, the Syracuse rotation is filled with sophomores and features no seniors.

In an era when upperclassmen reign supreme, the Orange rank 287th in Division I experience, per KenPom. Predictably, they’ve taken some lumps this season. But if Autry is able to keep his nucleus in tact, this type of victory could be a cornerstone for him to build upon as he replaces the legendary Jim Boeheim.

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