CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Just about everything worked for No. 13 North Carolina against Syracuse’s zone defense — once the Tar Heels stopped throwing the ball away.
Brice Johnson had 15 of his 17 points after halftime and UNC shot 55 percent to beat Syracuse 93-83 on Monday night.
Nate Britt added a career-best 17 points and four 3-pointers for the Tar Heels (17-4, 7-1 Atlantic Coast Conference), who pulled away in the final 4 minutes for their sixth straight win. UNC shot 62 percent after halftime and posted the best shooting and scoring totals allowed all season by the Orange (14-7, 5-3) despite committing a season-high 20 turnovers.
“Everything looks better, guys, when the ball goes in the basket,” coach Roy Williams said.
That’s happening a lot lately, as UNC shot at least 55 percent for the third time in five games and had its best scoring output in an ACC game this season.
Johnson managed one shot attempt before halftime, and Williams — who has been pushing Johnson to play with consistent intensity — told the 6-foot-9 junior he had to do more.
“He said he needs me to be a big-time player,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t really doing anything. He just wanted me to get more involved out there.”
Johnson made all five of his shots after the break, including three straight in the first 90 seconds, and finished with 11 rebounds. He even dove out of bounds for a loose ball near the UNC bench, then was greeted by a huge smile from Williams as he ran back onto the court.
Marcus Paige finished with 22 points, six rebounds and eight assists with no turnovers for UNC. Two of his four 3s came during a critical second-half stretch.
UNC went 9 for 16 from 3-point range.
“I still think the difference was Britt and Paige making the 3s,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “We could’ve lived with the inside play if we had done a little bit better job on the 3-point line.”
Trevor Cooney matched his season high with 28 points for the Orange, while Rakeem Christmas had 22 points and 12 rebounds. Syracuse scored 21 points off turnovers before losing in its first trip to Chapel Hill.
Syracuse: Michael Gbinije had 16 points and Tyler Roberson 13. … With the Orange short-handed due to injuries, Cooney and Christmas both played all 40 minutes. It was Cooney’s third straight 40-minute game and Christmas’ second in a row. … Syracuse’s five ACC wins have come against teams with a 4-29 combined league record.
North Carolina: Kennedy Meeks scored 17 points, 11 after halftime. … UNC finished with a 42-27 rebounding advantage. … UNC had 13 turnovers by halftime, more than it had in 11 games this season. … Williams earned his 741st career win, tying him for 16th place with former Temple coach John Chaney.
LOTS OF POINTS
No opponent had shot better than 48 percent or scored more than 83 points against Syracuse this season before Monday.
UNC’s 93 points were the most allowed by Syracuse since Connecticut scored 117 in six overtimes in March 2009. It was the most allowed by the Orange in regulation since Villanova scored 102 in February that same year.
UNC scored 45 points in last year’s meeting in the Carrier Dome, but scored 58 second-half points Monday.
BRITT’S BIG DAY
Britt took 15 stitches for a cut lip last week and was shooting 33 percent after switching his shooting hand to his right. But he hit the go-ahead 3 with 8:10 left and finished 4 for 5 on 3s after never hitting more than two before.
“I feel like my confidence just grows as I continue to play,” Britt said. “This is almost like shooting-wise being a freshman again.”
Syracuse hosts Virginia Tech on Feb. 3.
North Carolina travels to No. 10 Louisville on Saturday.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap