SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Theo Pinson scored a career-high 23 points, Joel Berry II added 18, including the tiebreaking layup with 1:36 left, and No. 10 North Carolina held off Syracuse 78-74 on Wednesday night.
North Carolina (22-7, 11-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) has won six straight, but this was the most difficult against a team fighting for its postseason life. Syracuse (18-10, 7-8) was coming off an important road victory over Miami and was teetering on the NCAA Tournament bubble entering the game.
Sterling Manley had 12 points and top scorer Luke Maye had nine points and just three rebounds
Tyus Battle scored 26 points, Frank Howard had 23, and Oshae Brissett had 17 points and 10 rebounds for Syracuse, the 10th double-double of his freshman year.
UNC built a double-digit lead early and every time Syracuse threatened the Tar Heels had an answer. Berry hit a 3 after Battle’s drive had made it a one-possession game, 51-48 with 14:33 left. When Paschal Chukwu lost an offensive rebound seconds later, Pinson roared in for a slam at the other end.
Pinson’s three-point play midway through the half gave UNC a 61-51 lead, but the Orange weren’t through.
Battle’s driving layup moved Syracuse back within 68-64 with 6:32 to go as the season-high crowd of 27,165, largest in the nation this season, shook the Carrier Dome walls.
Another 3 by Berry gave UNC an eight-point edge before the Orange made a final push with an eight-point run to knot the score. Battle scored six of the points, his jumper with 3:05 to go tying it at 74.
After Berry put the Tar Heels ahead, he missed a 3-point attempt from the top of the key, giving the Orange the ball with 32.6 seconds left.
Howard missed a 3-pointer with 17.2 seconds left and Berry’s two free throws iced it.
Carolina had scored 90 or more points 10 times, three times in previous five games.
UNC: With just two games left in the regular season, the Tar Heels are in the hunt for second place in the ACC. They entered the game a half-game behind second-place Duke, which played Louisville later Wednesday. An upcoming five-day break will give UNC a nice respite heading to the postseason. Carolina has 10 wins over current Quadrant I opponents, most in the country.
Syracuse: The Orange still have games against Boston College and two ranked teams — Duke and Clemson — as well as the ACC Tournament to bolster their resume for the postseason.
TOO MANY MEN
UNC used 10 players in the first half and seven scored as its bench held a 13-2 edge over the Orange’s reserves. High scorers were Maye and Manley with 8 apiece, Pinson with 7, and Berry 6. As usual, Battle, Howard and Brissett played every minute of the period for the Orange.
UNC: The Tar Heels have five days off before they host Miami next Tuesday night.
Syracuse: The Orange travel to play No. 5 Duke on Saturday night.