For the second straight road game, Virginia’s vaunted defense vanished in the second half.
Last Sunday, Villanova used 72.2% shooting after halftime to win 61-59. On Saturday, Syracuse copied that blueprint with 73.7% shooting after intermission to win 66-62.
”We played a really good first half obviously,” Bennett said. ”We made 3’s. We moved the ball. … Defensively we were good – they were setting a lot of ball screens. In the second half, and we talked about it, they spread us out and they attacked. Those wings are good. They’re physical, they’re tough, they can create their own.”
Those wings, in this case, were Tyus Battle and Andrew White III. That duo each scored 23 points in the win with White adding 2 assists as well. Battle, a freshman, made 7 of 11 shots including 3 of 6 3-pointers along with 6 of 8 free throws to reach his new career high. White made 7 of 14 shots including 3 of 8 3-pointers with 6 of 8 free throws.
John Gillon, fresh off a 43-point outing at NC State, chipped in 6 points as did Tyler Tyler Lydon.
After Cuse scored only 22 points in the first half, the ability of Battle and White to create off the dribble created all kinds of problems in the second half. The Orange poured in 44 points after the break as they missed only 5 shots in the second half (14 of 19).
”When their guards can just go and get a bucket or get into the paint, that’s the troubling thing,” Bennett said.
Some of Syracuse’s second half success came connected to Virginia’s second half struggles. After leading 34-22 at intermission with 12 assists on 13 baskets, the Hoos came back to the court ice cold. They opened the half with a 7:11 scoreless drought, the longest dry spell of the season. Tucked into that long stretch was a combination of turnovers and missed shots that helped fuel the Orange.
It was a strange offensive night for the Hoos in that regard. They shot 48% from the field (24 of 50) despite missing a couple of shots in close when a pass found a cutting post player behind the zone. The visitors also logged 21 assists on the 24 made field goals. On the other hand, Virginia also appeared passive for long stretches and did not slice into the zone’s creases often, resulting in just 5 free throw attempts. They made 2 of 5.
Despite the high assist total, UVA also committed 15 turnovers. That’s just one shy of the season high and it led to 20 points off of turnovers and some of Cuse’s 11 fastbreak points, the most allowed by Bennett’s team this season.
”I thought we got tentative,” Bennett said. ”That zone kept lifting up because we weren’t scoring on the backside of it. We shot it so well early so we were just kind of pass, pass, pass and we kept saying can we be assertive a little more and try to punch it and find some gaps and draw and get more aggressive. We did at times. We put a guard in the high post … and that helped, but it’s easier said than done. That zone is a smart zone, it evolves, it grows, it reads stuff.”
Virginia kept in touch on the scoreboard thanks to 12 3-pointers, its season high in ACC play. Kyle Guy came in off the bench to lead that charge by making 4 of 6 triples. He finished with 14 points and only 1 turnover. London Perrantes and Ty Jerome each made 3 of 5 3-pointers. Perrantes tallied 11 points, 8 assists, and 2 turnovers and tried to bring his team back with a late scoring flurry. Jerome chipped in 9 points and 4 assists, but had 3 turnovers.
Isaiah Wilkins and Mamadi Diakite found some success on the interior, but not consistently. Wilkins had 9 points, while Diakite added 8. Devon Hall and Marial Shayok, who had each been in scoring grooves for much of ACC play, did not find much room to get going. Hall had 6 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists on 2-of-5 shooting, while Shayok came up with just 2 points on 1-of-7 shooting with 2 assists.
None of that was enough to prevent Cuse’s rally from a 12-point halftime deficit, that Orange coach Jim Boeheim still found a little bit surprising despite his team’s ability to rally in games.
“It was a great comeback against one of the best defensive teams, one of the best road defensive teams,” Boeheim said. “They won at Notre Dame by 15, they won at Louisville, they were ahead the whole game. They’re really difficult to play against. For us to shoot 73 percent – I don’t even believe that number looking at it, I think it has to be wrong – from the field in the second half, to shoot 66 percent from the 3-point line – those are mind boggling numbers. They don’t do that. … That was an unbelievable comeback. I think it topped the other night [at NC State] because of the way Virginia plays defense. We had to shoot 73 percent and 66 percent to win. So, that’s pretty good.”