by John Kekis, The Associated Press
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- When James Michael McAdoo gave North Carolina an early boost against No. 2 Syracuse, the Tar Heels seemed ready to escape from their recent funk. The Orange defense had other ideas.
Deflecting passes and diving for loose balls all over the court, Syracuse beat North Carolina 57-45 on Saturday in an Atlantic Coast Conference marquee matchup as forwards C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant combined for 32 points and 20 rebounds.
Remarkably, the Orange shot a season-low 35 percent and won handily, leading by as many as 19 late in the second half.
"This was a defensive-effort game," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "We got loose balls. We made a lot of really good hustle plays. We got on the floor. That was the difference."
Syracuse (16-0, 3-0 ACC) evened its all-time record against the North Carolina (10-6, 0-3) to 4-4. UNC started 0-2 in ACC play three times in the past five years and five times overall, and the loss to Syracuse equaled the worst conference start in school history in 1996-97, Dean Smith's final year as head coach.
The last time North Carolina scored fewer than 45 points was in a 56-44 loss to eventual national champion Villanova in the Southeast Regional final of the 1985 NCAA tournament. The Tar Heels also beat North Carolina State 45-44 in February 1997.
UNC shot 2 of 12 from behind the arc against the Syracuse zone and 20 of 51 (39.2 percent) overall and was outrebounded 41-35, 17-10 on the offensive glass, netting just two second-chance points.
"They got by and won a game shooting 35 percent," said UNC coach Roy Williams, who dropped to 1-4 against Syracuse in his Hall of Fame career. "The first six or eight or 10 minutes, I thought we were aggressive. We were involved. I thought after that point they were just so much more aggressive than we were. It ends up a 12-point game, but it really was more than a 12-point game.
"They had so much more intensity than we did."
North Carolina was coming off a 63-57 home loss to Miami in which the Tar Heels shot just 31 percent (20 for 65) and finished with a season-low scoring output against Miami's zone.
This game, which featured teams with a combined 3,990 wins (UNC is third with 2,100 and Syracuse fifth with 1,890) was decided by a dominant first half by the Orange.
Tyler Ennis finished with 10 points and seven assists to go with a season-high four turnovers, and Trevor Cooney had five steals and 10 points on 4-of-17 shooting. Rakeem Christmas contributed eight rebounds and had four of the Orange's nine blocks.
Marcus Paige led North Carolina with 17 points and McAdoo had 15 points and nine rebounds.
Center Joel James, who returned to the North Carolina lineup Wednesday night against Miami after missing four straight games and most of a loss to Texas on Dec. 18 with a right-knee injury, played only 10 minutes and did not score. J.P. Tokoto finished with three points on 1-of-6 shooting.
Syracuse led by 12 at halftime and extended the lead to 42-24 on Fair's three-point play with 16:18 to go.
Paige answered with a 3, McAdoo converted a wide-open layup and Brice Johnson followed with an open slam dunk to keep the Tar Heels in the game.
Any chance at a comeback seemed to disappear when Ennis fed Cooney for a 3 from the left wing at the shot clock buzzer to boost the Syracuse lead to 47-31 midway through the half.
"They are a great team," McAdoo said. "They're physical. A lot of times the ball just went their way, and that's the sign of a great team. There were times when the ball was on the ground and the better team is going to come up with it."
North Carolina was 0 for 8 from beyond the arc in the opening half and pounded on the boards 22-13, failing to get any second-chance points, as Grant pulled down eight of his career-high 12 rebounds.
"We defended the paint, and did not give easy points for them," said Fair, who had 20 points. "We were quick on our feet. We basically controlled the game."