Greensboro, N.C. – The memory was fresh. Syracuse players still felt the sting of Feb. 29, when North Carolina shellacked them in the Carrier Dome.
That loss, the 92-79 pounding the Tar Heels inflicted upon them, served as motivation for Wednesday night’s rematch in the Greensboro Coliseum. Only this time, advancement in the ACC Tournament was on the line along with personal pride.
“We came out today, we wanted to take it a little personal,” Elijah Hughes said. “They came to our home court and they beat us. And we took it personal.”
When SU players thought about that game, they winced at the details. UNC shot nearly 52 percent. The Heels, a team not particularly proficient from the 3-point line, made 42.3 percent of their 3s.
They also outrebounded the Orange by 10.
All of this happened on a day when SU honored its seniors and one of its all-time greats in John Wallace.
“Just coming off that loss, it was Senior Night. And it was a bad loss,” Buddy Boeheim said. “Our defense was bad. They shot the ball probably the best they’ve shot it all season. We knew that if we got stops and got into shooters, they wouldn’t make those shots. We knew that.”
“They for sure crushed us. They scored (92) points. At home, where we are supposed to play good,” Marek Dolezaj said. “They played a really good game. But we wanted revenge. And we knew that for us this was a road game with the UNC fans. So we used the revenge and we crushed them here.”
The Greensboro Coliseum teemed Wednesday night with Tar Heels fans. They wore Carolina blue and complained about every foul called on UNC. But as the game wore on and the end seemed inevitable, one Tar Heel fan dressed in a Michael Jordan replica jersey stood up in the front row near midcourt and begged the team to “show some heart for the last time.”
Syracuse players, attuned to media and broadcast commentary, believed nobody gave them a chance against North Carolina. During one pre-game meeting, players talked about focusing on the backboards, on everybody playing a part in keeping the Heels off the glass. They emphasized defense, believing that if they reached shooters, if they bothered players like Cole Anthony enough, Wednesday’s outcome would be different.
“This is their home court,” Buddy Boeheim said. “They kind of felt like everyone was talking about them going on a five-game run. They were kind of overlooking us in this game, their second game of the tournament. I think they were getting a little too ahead of themselves. We knew that we weren’t just let them go right over us.”
SU took that motivation and carried it to Wednesday’s late game, the last of the ACC Tournament games to feature a full house of paying fans. And they defeated UNC 81-53.
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