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Tar Heels finish strong to take down Syracuse

Jan 27, 2015 - 5:16 AM Chapel Hill, NC ( - Marcus Paige scored 16 of his 22 points during a strong second half that lifted 13th-ranked North Carolina to a 93-83 victory over Syracuse in a key ACC battle.

The Tar Heels overcame a season-high 20 turnovers, as well as big performances from the Orange's duo of Trevor Cooney and Rakeem Christmas, to earn their season-high sixth straight win and 11th triumph in their last 12 games.

Those miscues had North Carolina (17-4, 7-1 ACC) down 56-50 with 13 minutes left before Paige, Nate Britt and Kennedy Meeks led an 18-6 run that reversed momentum.

Paige added eight assists and Britt, Meeks and Brice Johnson all finished with 17 points, with Johnson netting all but two after halftime and pulling down 11 rebounds for the game.

"I challenged them with toughness in the second half," said Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams. "We still turned it over a couple of times, but I did think we were much tougher physically and mentally, probably more so mentally. And I think that it just helps when the ball goes in the basket."

Cooney matched a season high with 28 points for Syracuse (14-7, 5-3), which has now dropped three of four following a 4-0 start in ACC play. Christmas grabbed 12 rebounds in addition to tallying 22 points.

The Orange's patented 2-3 zone frustrated the Tar Heels for much of the evening, and Syracuse owned a six-point lead seven minutes into the second half when Christmas sank a jump hook before hitting Cooney for a cutting layup that turned into a 3-point play.

North Carolina then began to hit its stride, with Paige igniting the game- changing spurt with consecutive treys and Meeks later drawing a foul while making a tough turnaround shot. The sophomore converted the ensuing free throw for a 61-60 edge with 8:40 to go.

Tyler Roberson put the Orange back on top with a jumper on the ensuing possession, but Britt knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers and Justin Jackson went 1-of-2 from the line to extend UNC's margin to 68-62 with seven minutes left.

"He's been struggling," Williams said of Britt. "But the little rascal was a big time player for us tonight."

Syracuse got within two on several occasions, including on Roberson's tip-in with 3:47 remaining that cut the lead to 74-72. The Orange were held without a field goal over the next two-plus minutes, however, as the Tar Heels went on an 12-3 spurt to put the game out of reach.

"I thought we played well," Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim remarked. "I thought North Carolina just had a great second half, and that was it."

North Carolina missed eight of its first 11 shots and had six turnovers through the first eight minutes of a sloppy opening half. The Orange capitalized, building an early 16-9 lead after Cooney put up seven of his 15 first-half points during a 9-0 run.

The Tar Heels did respond with a 7-0 flurry and later battled back to claim a 35-34 edge on a Britt 3-pointer with 58 seconds to go in the period. However, the Orange recorded the final six points of the half as the Tar Heels continued to make mistakes.

UNC's 13th giveaway of the stanza, an errant inbounds pass from Britt, led to Kaleb Joseph's run-out layup that just beat the buzzer and sent Syracuse into the break owning a 40-35 advantage.

Game Notes

North Carolina committed 19 turnovers twice previously this season, both coming in games against Butler and Florida in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament ... The Tar Heels earned their first win over Syracuse since a 96-93 overtime decision in Springfield, Massachusetts, on Nov. 21, 1987 ... UNC shot 62.1 percent (18-of-29) in the second half and outrebounded the Orange by an overall 42-27 margin ... The Tar Heels' 7-1 start in the ACC is their best since 2011-12.