At halftime, after trailing by three points against Syracuse, No. 5 North Carolina needed someone to be special.
The Orange were shooting 53 percent from the floor and it appeared they couldn’t miss.
Insert Coby White.
After scoring 10 points or less in each of his last three games, the Tar Heels’ freshman guard scored a career-high 34 points on Tuesday night, helping UNC hold off a pesky Syracuse team 93-85 at the Dean Smith Center.
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White hadn’t shot 50 percent from the floor since his 33-point performance against Miami on Feb. 9. But he was well over that percentage on Tuesday, shooting 64 percent.
“Tonight I was just taking what the defense was giving me and I hit a bunch of shots,” White said.
UNC graduate senior Cam Johnson had 16 points and 7 rebounds.
Syracuse sophomore guard Tyus Battle caught fire in the second half. He finished with 29 points, but it was not enough to take down the Tar Heels, which have now won 11 of their last 12 games.
With only three games left in the regular season, UNC (23-5, 13-2 ACC) has now clinched one of the top three seeds in the ACC tournament. That also means they will have a double-bye.
Syracuse (18-10, 9-6), which runs a zone defense, controlled the pace of the game early. The Orange shot it well and made the Tar Heels work for every basket.
Syracuse started the game on fire, making six of its first seven shots. The Orange led 15-6 during the first four minutes of the game.
But the Tar Heels would answer, going on an 8-0 run after White and Johnson knocked down back to back 3-pointers to cut the lead to one point. The two teams battled back and forth for the next few minutes before Syracuse took slight control of the game.
The Orange also shot well from behind the 3-point line. They made 8 of 17, 3-pointers.
“First half, we didn’t guard people that we said were shooters,” Williams said. “They didn’t believe the coaching staff or the scouting report.”
The Tar Heels, meanwhile, shot 37 percent from the floor in the first half and made only four 3-pointers.
But they found a way to get to the free throw line 21 times and made 19. That kept the game close.
“Our free-throw shooting was bad and theirs was very good, and they had a lot more of them,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “That was a contributing factor to the game.”
After halftime White caught fire. He made nine of UNC’s first 11 points of the second half, and helped the Tar Heels go on a 15-3 run during the first five minutes, which gave the Tar Heels a nine-point lead.
“Coby made some big baskets for us to say the least,” Williams said. “Luke (Maye) found him one time. You’ve got to move the ball to get through the zone.”
Syracuse battled back with a 15-5 run to tie the game with about 11 minutes left. But the Tar Heels dominated on the boards. They had 18 offensive rebounds, which led to 16 second chance points.
An offensive rebound by Maye led to an open 3-pointer for Johnson, which extended the Tar Heels’ lead to five points with just under nine minutes remaining.
UNC won the rebounding advantage 46-25.
White added a few more big plays and the Tar Heels led the rest of the way. It was White’s third 30-point game of the season, the first by a UNC freshman.