Roy Williams believes North Carolina has the tools to be among the best teams in the country, but it hasn’t always looked one in winning its first four games.
Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, meanwhile, feels his squad is a long way from reaching its full potential, despite dominating victories in its first three contests.
In Friday night’s championship game of the 2K Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden, the sixth-ranked Tar Heels again try for a solid performance from start to finish against an Orange team coming off an impressive upset of another team in the AP Top 25.
Williams hadn’t been overly pleased with North Carolina’s sometimes lackluster play while getting off to a 3-0 start, but he couldn’t find much to be upset with early in Thursday’s 77-73 victory over No. 15 Ohio State in the semifinals of the tournament that benefits Coaches vs. Cancer.
The defending national champions went up by 10 just 6 minutes into the game and led by 19 with 10:23 to play, but couldn’t maintain that intensity. The Buckeyes stormed back and pulled within 75-73 on a 3-pointer by Jon Diebler with 11 seconds left.
North Carolina managed to avoid the letdown as Larry Drew II, who missed four of his previous six free throws in the final minute, made two from the line with 11 seconds left.
“We feel very fortunate,” Williams said. “We have a chance to be a very good basketball team, but I want it a lot sooner than it’s coming.”
While the Tar Heels had trouble finishing off Ohio State, the Orange had no problems thoroughly beating No. 13 California 95-73 earlier in the night.
Syracuse, which has won its first three games by an average of 31.3 points, built a 44-33 lead by halftime and put the game away with a 15-4 run early in the second half. Scoop Jardine scored a career-high 22 points and Wes Johnson finished with 17 and 11 rebounds as the Orange shot 57.1 percent from the floor.
Despite the impressive showing, Boeheim believes the team can improve.
“I think that we can still be better offensively,” he said. “Losing our three leading scorers from last year, we still have a long way to go.”
With the departures of Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris, the Orange now will rely on Jardine, Johnson and Arinze Onuaku to lead the offense.
Johnson sat out last season after transferring from Iowa State and is expected to provide the same kind of inside-outside threat Syracuse had in Harris.
“I think we’re underrated,” said Jardine, who is playing pain-free after missing his sophomore season with a stress fracture in his left leg. “But you ain’t seen Wes, you ain’t seen me really, and that’s what you have to go by.”
The Tar Heels return just one starter from the team that beat Michigan State in April for the national title, but welcome back Marcus Ginyard, who missed most of last season with a stress fracture in his left foot.
Ginyard, who had four points in only three games last season, finished with 13 Thursday. It was his stifling defense that made the difference, forcing Turner to commit 10 turnovers.
Senior forward Deon Thompson, the lone starter from last season’s team, finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds against the Buckeyes for his second double-double of the season.
Thompson and the Tar Heels could have trouble in the paint against a Syracuse team that finished with nine blocked shots Thursday after recording 20 in its first two games.
These teams haven’t met since North Carolina’s 96-93 overtime victory on Nov. 21, 1987.