It was to be a show-us-what-you-got kind of game, one of those intersectional tales of two leagues, styles and coaching philosophies, not to mention the ultimate talent-and pride-check for the visiting boys from Syracuse, who came into the Charlotte Coliseum last Saturday night undefeated and fairly unimpressed with the rejuvenation of North Carolina. But what it turned out to be was just another showcase for the Tar Heels' marvelous 6'6" swingman, Michael Jordan; just another deb party for their 6'11" freshman, Brad Daugherty; and a blowout for the defending national champions. The Tar Heels squeezed the Orange dry, sending the 12th-ranked invaders from The Big East back to snow country with an 87-64 licking.
With the curly-haired Canadian, 6'8" Leo Rautins—the most spectacular passer in college—running the show, Syracuse had roared past 11 opponents while shooting better than 56% and averaging more than 90 points a game. But that was against competition largely unacquainted with the word defense.
For all the Dean Smith mystique and four-corners mumbo jumbo, Carolina has always won on its defense—traps and zones, runs-and-jumps, mixups and scrambles. It was the defense that had bailed the team out of its early season malaise, while it struggled to keep its Heels above the Tar. And it was the defense that most worried Rautins and Coach Jim Boeheim. "We know we're playing against a reputation, a tradition and a huge name here, but we're not in awe or anything," said the senior known as White Magic. "I just hope I can read their changing defenses."
Rautins accomplished that for a while. His clever passing set up easy buckets that kept the Orange even with North Carolina through the first half (a 35-35 tie) and put it ahead early in the second. Two minutes into the half, Syracuse had a 40-36 lead with possession. But here's how solid an impact the Tar Heels' suffocating defenses and newly developed power game had made; here's how explosive the Carolina attack had become: At precisely this juncture, Boeheim actually considered ordering his team into its delay game.
Granted, the smaller Orangemen were being swallowed on the boards—they ultimately lost the rebound battle 43-28. And they were having an equally miserable time with the refs—Syracuse would commit 33 fouls, four players would foul out and the team would be outscored from the line 37-10. But hold the ball on the road with 18 minutes left? "We couldn't cope with the two 7-footers [ Daugherty and 6'9"-plus Sam Perkins] any longer," said Forward Tony Bruin.
That Syracuse was unable to go into its delay game was primarily a result of the work of the 17-year-old Daugherty, who may be a Worthy successor after all to the departed James, who now plays for the Lakers. First Daugherty blocked a driving jumper by Erich Santifer, whose 24 points turned out to be Syracuse's only offense. Shortly, Daugherty drew a couple of fouls and made three free throws. Then he banked a lay-in. Later he blocked and intimidated several more shots. Somewhere in there another tender freshman, Guard Steve Hale, converted a three-point play after a gutsy, spinning fast-break drive through heavy traffic. In four minutes Carolina went from 36-40 to 51-43. After Santifer cut the lead to five points with 13:15 to play, Jordan started hitting from the corners, which effectively caved the roof in on Syracuse. Four straight Tar Heel baskets made it 59-46, and the Orange never got closer than nine points again.
It wasn't simply Jordan's 18 points and seven rebounds or Daugherty's 15 and nine (in only the third start of his brief career) that were so impressive. Again, it was defense that turned the contest into a rout. Theirs and the team's.
Once Jordan blocked a Gene Waldron jump shot from behind. Another time he blocked, then caught in midair a Bruin jumper—and Bruin is one of the storied leapers in the country. In the man-to-man, Jordan guarded Rautins, Perkins had Bruin and Daugherty covered the rest of Mecklenburg County. As a result, Rautins and Bruin, who had been combining for 15 baskets a game, didn't make their ages in shooting percentage. Together they made four of 21 (19.0%).
"I knew they were a smart team," Rautins said, "but I didn't think anybody could stop our running game like that. We played right into their hands."
It wasn't as if Syracuse hadn't recognized the peril of taking on Carolina. "Dean has found all the answers," Boeheim said on Friday. "I think North Carolina will win the ACC or come very close. And they're still solid contenders for the NCAA. We don't have to win to prove we're good. Nobody expects us to win. How many teams from outside the ACC have come into the state and beaten North Carolina? One? Two?"