CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Forward Brice Johnson scored 14 points, including a key basket off a rebound late in the game as No. 8 North Carolina fought off Syracuse for a 75-70 victory on Monday night at the Smith Center.
Trailing by three, Syracuse had a possession with a chance to tie in the final 15 seconds, but guard Michael Gbinije opted to drive to the basket and came up empty.
North Carolina guard Joel Berry made two free throws at the 6.6-second mark to account for the final score.
The Tar Heels (24-6, 13-4), who played in their home finale, moved a half-game ahead of Miami atop the Atlantic Coast Conference standings.
Berry finished with 13 points, while forwards Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks all had 10 points. Johnson, a senior, also had 10 rebounds in his final home game.
North Carolina held a double-digit lead for the first time at 48-37 on Paige's 3-point play with 15:13 remaining. But the Tar Heels had trouble putting away Syracuse, which is looking for a resume-boosting victory in its quest to make the NCAA Tournament field.
Gbinije's 17 points paced Syracuse (19-11, 9-8), which played the first of consecutive road games to close the regular season. Guard Trevor Cooney added 14 points, forward Tyler Lydon 12 and guard Malachi Richardson 10 for the Orange.
Gbinije, who was coming off a career-high 34 points Saturday against North Carolina State, reached the double-figure mark with a little more than nine minutes to play on a put-back dunk and subsequent free throw as the Orange hung around at 58-50.
Gbinije has scored in double figures in every game this season.
Syracuse pulled within 62-59 with seven minutes left.
Johnson and Jackson answered with baskets and Johnson made two free throws as part of a 6-0 run.
Yet North Carolina's lead was only 69-68 with 2:10 to play.
Hicks scored in the lane and, after an offensive foul on Syracuse, Johnson scored off an offensive rebound.
North Carolina averages less than five 3-pointers per game (a league low). The Tar Heels made six in the first half, then missed all eight attempts in the second half from long range.
The Tar Heels led 38-34 at halftime, largely in part because of their 3-point shooting. North Carolina also had eight offensive rebounds in the first 10 minutes.
But the Tar Heels didn't break free from an 18-18 tie until 3-point baskets were made by guards Nate Britt and Theo Pinson.
Guard Marcus Paige scored his first points on a 3-pointer to push North Carolina to a 36-32 edge.
Syracuse's first three fouls came on the offensive end before the Tar Heels took a foul shot at the 3:34 mark of the first half.
The teams combined for 15 first-half turnovers.
NOTES: As part of Senior Night, walk-ons Justin Coleman and Spenser Dalton were in the North Carolina starting lineup and played the first 71 seconds, with the Tar Heels holding a 2-0 lead when they departed. ... Syracuse C DaJuan Coleman played with five stitches under his right eye from an injury sustained Saturday against North Carolina State. ... North Carolina beat the Orange 84-73 in early January in Syracuse. ... Despite their places in the standings, North Carolina entered the game with a 6-4 mark across its last 10 games while Syracuse was 7-3 in that span. ... Syracuse goes to Florida State for a regular-season finale Saturday. ... North Carolina goes to Duke on Saturday night.