The Tar Heels’ win was the 800th of Roy Williams’s career.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina coach Roy Williams stood at midcourt, looking to the Smith Center rafters to watch video messages from former players congratulating him on his 800th win.
The Hall of Famer didn't wait very long before turning his attention back to the present.
"It's a special moment, but you know what I really love?" Williams asked the crowd as he pointed to his current players. "No. 17, for this team."
Williams became the ninth Division I coach to reach 800 wins with the ninth-ranked Tar Heels' 85-68 victory against Syracuse on Monday night, keeping them near the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference standings.
Isaiah Hicks scored 20 points for UNC (17–3, 5–1), which shot 52 percent and never trailed after the game's opening possession. The Tar Heels led 42-30 at halftime and then stayed a step ahead of the hot-shooting Orange after the break to give Williams the milestone win.
The 66-year-old Williams noted it had been a difficult few years, a stretch that includes the 2015 death of mentor Dean Smith and a multiyear NCAA academic investigation continuing to hang over the school.
"From 700 to 800 (wins), the kids have been my salvation," Williams said. "You guys know the junk that's been going on. I've taken a lot of it personally and I was not involved. But if it wasn't for the kids and the way they've made me feel and made me really enjoy coaching and enjoy life everyday—that's the special thing."
Watch Coach Roy Williams Honored after his 800th Career Win! pic.twitter.com/Ih4eVSILMI— Carolina Basketball (@UNC_Basketball) January 17, 2017
Williams reached 800 wins in his 29th season as a head coach, with 418 of those coming in 15 years at Kansas. He joined a list that included the man on the opposing sideline: Syracuse's Jim Boeheim.
"He's getting as old as me - that's how you get to those numbers," Boeheim quipped.
"He's one of the top coaches who have ever coached in college basketball, I believe," Boeheim continued. "If you look at his numbers at Kansas and here, what he's done, there's very few people who have done that."
Tyler Lydon scored 26 points for Syracuse (11–8, 3–3), which got as close as three early in the second half, but never pushed ahead. The Tar Heels ultimately ran off a 7–0 flurry in the final 5 minutes to stretch the lead back out to 15.
Syracuse: The Orange had won three of four since opening league play with a loss at Boston College, but they got behind and couldn't erase the gap even after spending the first 10 minutes of the second half shooting better than 70 percent. Syracuse finished the game shooting 44 percent and hit 10 of 24 3-point attempts, with Boeheim calling it his team's "best road game."
North Carolina: The Tar Heels played their second straight game without freshman big man Tony Bradley Jr. due to a concussion, but the duo of Hicks and Kennedy Meeks took care of the frontcourt production. UNC has now won five straight since its head-scratching loss at Georgia Tech in its ACC opener.
North Carolina finished with a 44–24 rebounding advantage, including 18 offensive boards that led to 20 second-chance points.
"We just didn't do a good enough job," Boeheim said. "They were going to outrebound us, but tonight they got too many, too many second-chance points."
Hicks, a 6-foot-9 senior, hit the 20-point mark in consecutive games for the first time in his career. He also didn't pick up a foul for only the second time all year to avoid the foul trouble that has often plagued him.
"I would say it's just me doing trying to actually do the right stuff," Hicks said. "Slide my feet, stay on the ground, don't worry about shot fakes, just play the principles rather than do something stupid."
LYDON'S BIG NIGHT
Lydon finished 11 of 14 from the floor and made 3 of 5 3-point attempts to go with seven rebounds in 39 minutes. He's shooting 71 percent (17 of 24) in the two games since a two-point, 1-for-5 performance in a loss at Virginia Tech.
Syracuse: The Orange visit No. 15 Notre Dame on Saturday.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels travel to Boston College on Saturday.