Adrian Joseph put in a solid performance with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
For the second time in three games, the Virginia basketball team couldn’t consistently connect from long range and lost in the process. This time, Syracuse and its traditional 2-3 zone befuddled the Cavaliers, who made 11 of 32 3-pointers in the game but just 4 of 15 in the second half. The Orange took advantage of the cold shooting to pull out a 70-68 victory, just the second time a visitor has won in the John Paul Jones Arena.
UVa coach Dave Leitao said his team’s usual strength of shooting actually worked against the team Wednesday night.
“As good of a perimeter shooting team as we are, against a team that plays 40 minutes of zone as they did tonight, it’s not so obvious that you’re going to get shots, you’re going to shoot them, and you’re going to make them. What happens is you start settling for them,” a subdued Leitao said in the postgame press conference. “I thought there were a lot of possessions where we settled, especially early in the game and then the majority of the second half. As opposed to a 20, 22-footer, it ended up being a 25-footer, which is longer than we normally take.
“We did not drive the gaps. We did not seek to get the ball in three, four, or five different ways below 15 feet. We didn’t make post passes,” he continued. “As a result, you take what is normally an advantage and make it a disadvantage. Because if all else fails, a guy knows he can make a shot. It ends up being a shot out of rhythm and I think we did that too many times.”
“I think it was extended out to the 3-point line. I’m sure they understood how good of a 3-point shooting team we are and tried to force us to play more inside,” Mamadi Diane said. “It’s not something we’ve played or seen for 40 minutes at all this year. We worked against it, but they extended out on us and with their length and athleticism it was tough to go up against.”
“A lot of teams do that. When you see a zone, you automatically start to think 3-pointers because that’s what they give you because the zone is designed to not let you get in the paint,” Calvin Baker said. “I think we did start to settle and the shots weren’t falling. We’re going to have days like that. We’re going to just have to turn it around next game.”
Despite its shooting struggles, Virginia did settle in offensively for two key offensive stretches, taking a lead each time. In the end, that wasn’t enough.
The Cavaliers’ first surge came late in the first half after the hosts had played from behind throughout the game. Trailing 24-19, UVa put together a 17-5 run to reach intermission with a 36-29 lead. The half-ending burst was keyed by some inside-the-arch offense at the start of the spurt. First, Mike Scott (4 points, 6 rebounds) grabbed an offensive rebound and made two free throws after being fouled. Next, Adrian Joseph (19 points, 13 rebounds, 2 assists) made a lay-up when Sean Singletary (10 points, 9 assists, 2 steals, 3-of-14 shooting, 2 of 8 free throws) found him on the baseline. Diane (10 points, 2 rebounds) followed with a one-dribble, pull-up jumper to give UVa a 25-24 lead before Scott bookended an 8-0 surge with another offensive rebound and score.
Despite Virginia’s flurry to end the half, Syracuse chipped away in the first 10 minutes after the break and eventually retook the lead at 44-41 with a 15-5 run of its own. That lead eventually ballooned to 54-46 as the visitors again seized control of the game.
Sean Singletary had 9 assists, but struggled with his scoring touch – he made just 3 of 14 shots.
That’s when UVa’s second key surge materialized. And once again, the secret was to work inside-out against the 2-3 zone. Joseph started the spurt this time around with a drive and dump play to Will Harris (7 points, 2 rebounds). That was followed by two penetrate-and-pitch plays from Singletary that freed Joseph for open 3-pointers. The second trey banked in off the glass from the top of the key and cut the deficit to 56-54. Moments later, Singletary scored while being fouled in transition and the traditional 3-point play gave the Hoos a 57-56 lead. Jeff Jones (4 points, 1 assist, 1 steal) was up next with a steal and score (goaltending in transition) and a driving shot to cap a 15-4 burst that gave the hosts a 61-58 edge.
“We just wanted Singletary not to get in a rhythm where he could get going, we wanted to keep somebody near him all the time, and I think that was a big key in the game. We just got to their shooters…. I just thought we did a good job of defending,” Orange coach Jim Boeheim said. “We just couldn’t do anything on the offensive end. We had some good looks and couldn’t make them. … In the second half, Donte [Greene] got a couple good looks and made them and that was the difference.”
Indeed, Cuse made all the plays down the stretch as Greene (20 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks) sparked a late game-winning rally. Greene stole a skip pass and ran the floor to get a nasty leaning jam in transition to start the comeback. He followed that play and a Virginia timeout with a long 3-pointer to give Syracuse a 63-61 lead that it never relinquished. Greene, who had 12 of his 20 points in the final 10 minutes, also delivered a strategy-dictating post shot with 1:04 remaining to give his team a 68-65 advantage.
“He’s a very difficult match-up. Long with a touch. Can play inside. Can play outside. It was a tough match-up for anybody. We were at a disadvantage size-wise, a disadvantage length-wise,” Leitao said. “He’s not the kind of guy that’s a blow-by guy and so the advantage that you might have with a smaller guy or a quicker guy is that you can prevent him from penetrating, but he just uses his length to get to spots and shoot over you. He’s intelligent and he had good rhythm.”
The Cavaliers have one day to get past the loss. Longwood comes to town Friday.
“I think everything was a part of it from rebounding to not being aggressive to our energy level. All of it was a part of us losing by two points. If we had been a little bit better, I think the outcome would have been different,” Baker said. “We’re just going to have get through it. We’re going to have a lot of mental toughness and we’re just going to have to get through everything. There are going to be a lot of obstacles we’re going to have to overcome this year and this is just one of them.”
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