No. 5 North Carolina revs engine as Syracuse visits

North Carolina shouldn't be flying under the radar anymore.

The fifth-ranked Tar Heels are tied with Duke and Virginia atop the Atlantic Coast Conference standings with two weeks left in the regular season.

Now it's a matter of remaining one of the season's elite teams, something the Tar Heels say will come with more hard work. The next task comes against visiting Syracuse on Tuesday night in Chapel Hill, N.C.

"It's easy to kind of get fat and happy," said senior guard Cameron Johnson. "So we recognize that and we wanted to make an emphasis not to (fall into traps)."

North Carolina coach Roy Williams has been adamant that last week's upset victory at Duke means more if the Tar Heels follow it up with more good performances. They achieved that by whipping then-No. 16 Florida State 77-59 on Saturday.

"We got to keep playing or you give it back," Williams said. "We have a couple of (losses) here in the Smith Center this year so you got to protect your home court."

The Tar Heels (22-5, 12-2 ACC) have won three games in a row and have reached the 12-win mark in ACC play for the 11th time in Williams' 16 seasons.

They held Florida State to 30.5 percent shooting from the field, including 25 percent in the second half.

"Every game in the ACC is going to be tough and we're not going to overlook anybody," senior forward Luke Maye said. "We're going to come in ready to play every day."

North Carolina has shot a combined 9 of 40 on 3-point attempts in the past two games. That could be an issue if that trend continues against Syracuse's zone defense. Syracuse is holding opponents to just 31.0 percent from beyond the arc.

The Tar Heels received a boost against Florida State from freshman reserve forward Nassir Little, who shared team scoring honors with Johnson by scoring 18 points.

"I came in just being aggressive, trying to attack," Little said.

Syracuse (18-9, 9-5) lost to then-No. 1 Duke on Saturday night, falling 75-65 at home.

"We can build on this," Orange coach Jim Boeheim said.

That was the first game after last Wednesday night's tragic accident in which Boeheim was behind the wheel when his vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian on a darkened highway. It created an emotional scene for a game a few nights later at the Carrier Dome.

Now, it's the first of two road trips to the state of North Carolina this week -- the other to Wake Forest on Saturday.

This is the only regular-season matchup of the season between North Carolina and Syracuse.

"We probably are going to play the hottest team in the league, North Carolina," Boeheim said. "It'll be a really great game against a very difficult team."

Offensive malfunctions tend to be behind Syracuse's undoing in some situations.

"We've struggled at times offensively," Boeheim said. "We have to get a little better movement and we have to make shots to win."

Even after the loss to Duke, Syracuse can impact the top of the ACC standings. In addition to the North Carolina game, the Orange will host Virginia next Monday.

--Field Level Media
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