No. 8 North Carolina survives against Syracuse

(Robert Willett/The News & Observer via AP)
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Brice Johnson finished with 14 points and 10 boards and Joel Berry chipped in with 13 points off the bench as No. 8 North Carolina held on to beat Syracuse in the Dean Dome on Monday night, 75-70.

The win itself wasn’t overly impressive — the Tar Heels opened up a double-digit lead in the second half and nearly gave it all back — while the result didn’t mean much for either team’s tournament standing. Losing at UNC isn’t going to hurt Syracuse in terms of their bubble standings and a win over the Orange isn’t going to be the difference between a No. 2 seed and a No. 1 seed for the Tar Heels.

But that doesn’t mean this outcome is meaningless.

Because there are two things that North Carolina fans can take out of this:

  1. Marcus Paige really struggled shooting the ball again. He’s been out of rhythm since going for 30 points in a win at Florida State, and tonight’s 2-for-10 effort didn’t change that. Paige did, however, finally look like he was involved on the offensive end of the floor. Paige finished with eight assists to just one turnovers, leading the way as UNC was able to break down the Syracuse 2-3 zone. That’s not something that he has done consistently this season, partly because North Carolina has had him spending more time playing off the ball. Will that be an adjustment that the Tar Heels make moving forward?
  2. Isaiah Hicks finished with 10 points and six boards in 21 minutes. Five of those six boards came on the offensive end of the floor. I’ve mentioned this before, but I think that Hicks is a better fit alongside Johnson than Kennedy Meeks is. Where as Johnson and Meeks both need to occupy essentially the same spot on the floor to be effective, Hicks is more active, tougher and more aggressive getting to the offensive glass. For a team that lacks toughness, I think you need to play the guy that makes toughness plays.