SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- The coach walked on the court, turned to his bench and gave a quick wave to the 26,811 disciples on hand to welcome him back from exile. And then Syracuse and North Carolina played a basketball game, a really important basketball game for the Orange.
But basketball isn’t a fairy tale. More like a reality play. And in this one, the reality is North Carolina is just better, as the Tar Heels' 84-73 win ruined Jim Boeheim’s coming-home party.
Depth wins again: North Carolina’s biggest star isn’t Marcus Paige. Or Brice Johnson. It’s the sum of the Tar Heels’ parts, their many, many parts. Paige had just three points and it didn’t upset Carolina’s offensive rhythm at all. There are simply too many Heels for one guy’s drought to matter.
The hero of the day goes to Isaiah Hicks. The junior, who hadn’t scored more than 14 points all season, came off the bench to torch the Orange for 21, more than making up for Paige’s absence.
Did Boeheim make a difference?: No question, this is the most inspired the Orange have played in a long time, but whether it’s the coach or more the bright lights and frenzied crowd of a big game is hard to differentiate. Boeheim did say he wanted his offense to move more efficiently than it had been, and it surely looked better. The final score is misleading. Until the last three minutes, Syracuse was in this game despite a horrific 3-of-13 night from Michael Gbinije. The truth is, this Orange team is limited. It was eaten up inside, coughed up 13 turnovers and needs a lot of work.
Bottom line: Syracuse is now 0-4 in the ACC, 10-7 overall, and in dire need of a fix to turn this season around.
And about that return: The cameras lined up with about five minutes before tip, lenses all trained at the tunnel. The fans seated in the entrance all turned their eyes away from the court. Everyone was waiting. With about two minutes left on the pregame clock, Boeheim officially returned, his nine-game suspension for NCAA misdeeds behind him. Greeted with a thundering ovation, Boeheim spent a few minutes chatting with Tar Heels coach Roy Williams before turning to wave to all four sides of the Carrier Dome.
And then it was back to business. At the 12:04 mark, he threw up his hands in his patented plaintive gesture, aggravated that the officials failed to see a foul he saw.
He was officially back.