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Tar Heels Slam Syracuse 83-66, Advance To National Title Game

HOUSTON -- North Carolina showed why it's the only No. 1 seed left standing as the Tar Heels repelled a Syracuse comeback that other lesser foes failed to stop.

North Carolina tore through the Syracuse zone and clamped down on the Orange on defense as the Tar Heels claimed an 83-66 victory in an NCAA Tournament semifinal Saturday night at NRG Stadium.

Forwards Brice Johnson and Justin Jackson each scored 16 points to lead North Carolina. Forwards Kennedy Meeks added 15 and guard Marcus Paige pitched in 13. Tar Heels guard Joel Berry had eight points and 10 assists.

Syracuse dug itself out of deep holes in wins over Gonzaga and Virginia in the previous two rounds. But the Tar Heels ended 10th-seeded Syracuse's improbable run to the Final Four as North Carolina defeated the Orange for the third time this season.

North Carolina (33-6) advances to play Villanova (34-5) in the national championship game on Monday. The Tar Heels will be seeking their sixth national title in school history and the third under coach Roy Williams.

Tar Heels Jackson and Meeks came up with steals on back-to-back Syracuse possessions early in the second half. That set up transition layups for Berry and Paige to give North Carolina a 14-point lead with 17 minutes left.

Syracuse (23-14) made a charge. Forward Malachi Richardson hit a 3-pointer that cut the Tar Heels' lead to seven.

But Paige answered on the other end less than 20 seconds later and Johnson followed with a dunk on the next trip down the floor to boost North Carolina's lead back to 12.

The Orange couldn't mount another serious threat as they hit just 8-of-26 from 3-point range.

Guard Trevor Cooney scored 22, including four 3-pointers, to lead the Orange and Richardson added 17.

Meeks completed a 3-point play midway through the first half to break an 18-18 tie and spark a 9-0 run by the Tar Heels.

Jackson followed with two free throws and forward Joel James and Paige each hit jump shots to push North Carolina ahead 27-18 with 5:50 left before the break.

But Syracuse wouldn't let the Tar Heels run away.

Orange guard Michael Gbinije got to the basket and was fouled for a three-point play with a little more than two minutes left in the first half, cutting North Carolina's lead to six.

Still, the Tar Heels went to the halftime locker room with some measure of control thanks to their ability to exploit the interior of the Orange zone.

North Carolina forwards Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Johnson combined to go 10-of-13, scoring 23 points in the first 20 minutes.

Hicks threw down a dunk with 40 seconds left before halftime and Meeks led the Tar Heels with nine points as North Carolina took a 39-28 lead to the break.

Gbinije paced Syracuse with eight points in the first half despite going 3-of-11 from the field.

NOTES: North Carolina swept two ACC conference games against Syracuse this season. The Tar Heels defeated the Orange by 11 points in Syracuse and five points in Chapel Hill. ... North Carolina leads the all-time series against Syracuse 8-4 and the teams have split four NCAA Tournament matchups. ... North Carolina upped its record to 19 Final Four appearances and was reached the championship game for the 10th time. Syracuse was making its sixth Final Four appearance and trying to reach the championship game for the fourth time.

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