CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Of all of North Carolina’s notable offensive weapons, guard Nate Britt ranks down on the list.
He rose quickly Monday night against Syracuse.
Britt hit two 3-point baskets during North Carolina’s decisive second-half run, and the 13th-ranked Tar Heels defeated Syracuse 93-83 at the Smith Center.
“I feel like I had no choice (but to shoot),” Britt said, “and I was able to knock some of them down.”
Britt, a sophomore who finished with a career-best 17 points, also made a baseline floater that helped the Tar Heels maintain the lead down the stretch. He entered the game as the Tar Heels’ seventh-leading scorer at 5.5 points per game.
Guard Marcus Paige pumped in 22 points as the Tar Heels (17-4, 7-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) earned their sixth win in a row.
North Carolina forwards Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson also had 17 points apiece, with Johnson hitting five late-game free throws and providing a tip-in.
The Tar Heels, despite a miserable first half of ballhandling, scored more points than any previous Syracuse opponent this season.
Guard Trevor Cooney poured in 28 points to match his season high, and center Rakeem Christmas had 22 points and 12 rebounds for Syracuse, which lost for the third time in four games.
Forward Michael Gbinije had 16 points, and Tyler Roberson supplied 13 points before fouling out with 2:53 left for the Orange (14-7, 5-3).
North Carolina went ahead on Britt’s 3-point shot with 8:10 to play, marking the first time the sophomore made more than two 3-pointers in a game.
“Definitely the basket did seem a little bigger,” Britt said. “My teammates kept feeding me and telling me to shoot.”
Britt canned another 3-pointer on the next possession, giving the Tar Heels their largest lead of the game at 67-62. That also eclipsed his previous career high of 13 points.
Britt was a combined 4-for-18 (including 0-for-4 on 3-pointers) from the field in the previous four games. He shot 5-for-7 Monday, including 4-for-5 from beyond the arc.
“He has made a bunch of them in practice, he really has,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “Not recently because he hasn’t made anything, but he has had some practices where he has really shot the ball well.”
Veteran Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said he is not surprised when a player steps up to make shots, not that he liked it in Britt’s case.
“We needed to make a few more shots to win a game like this, and we didn’t,” Boeheim said. “Britt was the biggest difference-maker.”
North Carolina made 55.6 percent (9-for-16) of its 3-point attempts.
“You can’t let people shoot over 50 percent from the 3-point line,” Boeheim said.
Johnson scored North Carolina’s first six points of the second half as part of an 8-2 run before the Orange held an advantage for most of the next nine minutes.
Johnson shot 6-for-6 from the field, including making all five second-half attempts. The Tar Heels took advantage of Syracuse’s depleted front line, holding a 42-27 rebounding advantage.
“We just don’t have enough size in there to help (Christmas),” Boeheim said. “It hurts us against a team like this. We’ve hung in there on the boards against most teams.”
Cooney topped the 20-point mark for the third time in six games. He made 10 of 26 shots, including four of 13 3-point attempts.
Syracuse finished the first half with a flourish, including scoring four points in the last eight seconds to take a 40-35 lead into the break.
The Orange led for most of the first half until forward J.P. Tokoto’s 3-pointer with 3:19 left gave the Tar Heels a 30-29 edge.
Cooney scored seven points in a row to send Syracuse to a 16-9 lead. North Carolina scored the next seven points before another Cooney 3-pointer.
The Orange led 24-19, with Cooney owning 15 of those points. He didn’t score again in the half.
North Carolina committed 13 first-half turnovers, 20 in the game.
“(Paige’s) most impressive thing: eight assists, zero turnovers,” Williams said, “when the rest of our team was throwing it everywhere that Syracuse was standing.”
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