In the two previous meetings between the Virginia and Syracuse men’s basketball programs, the Cavaliers held substantial second-half leads only to see the Orange come away with victories in both instances. On Tuesday night inside John Paul Jones Arena, No. 3 Virginia used clutch free throw shooting to hold off a last-minute surge by Syracuse and escape with a 68-61 win.
UVA improves to 15-1 overall, 4-0 in Atlantic Coast Conference play with the win, which is the Cavaliers’ third straight victory over the Orange in Charlottesville. The Hoos are on a seven-game winning streak since falling to No. 2 West Virginia in Morgantown.
“It took a little joy away at the end, the way they turned us over and we had some unforced errors,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said. “I thought that they have guys who can make individual plays off the bounce and they make tough contested shots, but I felt like we needed length on the floor to guard those perimeter guys to the best of our abilities. I thought De’Andre [Hunter] was doing a good job and then Isaiah [Wilkins] blowing up the ball screens. We were just trying to make them work. I liked our variations offensively. I thought we played solid, but it just left a little bad taste how we turned it over at the end. But a quality win and you just keep fighting.”
Tonight’s contest was, mostly, a grind-it-out affair between two quality defensive teams. Neither team shot very well in general with Syracuse making 38.3% of its field goals and Virginia making only 37.7%. The difference in favor of the Wahoos came from beyond the arc — Virginia made 9-of-27 overall, including 6-of-15 in the second half, while the visitors made 6-of-21 overall but only 2-of-12 in the second half — and at the free throw line, where the Cavaliers outscored Syracuse, 19-9.
Virginia sophomore shooting guard Kyle Guy brushed off a 2-of-10 shooting performance versus UNC to make 5-of-11 from 3 and 6-of-14 overall. The Indianapolis (IN) native made all five free throw attempts and led UVA with 22 points while playing a career-high 40 minutes. Guy becomes the first Cavalier to play every minute of a game since Sylven Landesberg did so against Clemson in 2009.
Redshirt freshman De’Andre Hunter sparked Virginia with 13 first half points in 12 minutes. He and Guy combined for 22 points in the first 20 minutes as the Hoos battled to a 29-26 halftime lead.
Syracuse, which led for almost six minutes in the first half, used a 5-0 run in the first two minutes of the second half to grab a 31-29 advantage. The Cavaliers responded with a 12-2 run of its own, thanks in large part to sophomore point guard Ty Jerome. Jerome, who had missed all three of his shot attempts (all 3s) in the first half, made three straight from beyond the arc as Virginia surged a 42-33 lead.
Syracuse would get no closer than five the rest of the way, although the game got interesting in the final minute, and not in a good way for Virginia fans. A 6-0 run put UVA up by a seemingly insurmountable 14-point margin, 64-50, with 1:24 to play. Three Cavalier turnovers and 54 seconds later, the Orange found themselves within two possessions, 64-59.
Devon Hall, who had a team-high four turnovers including two in the final minute, atoned for his mistakes at the free throw line. He sank two from the charity stripe to extend the Cavalier lead to 66-59. After a pair of free throws by talented Syracuse freshman Oshae Brissett, Guy effectively shut down the comeback attempt by making two free throws with 12 seconds remaining.
“They just started pressing,” Hall recalled. “I’ve got to be better in that situation. I should have had more composure and stopped making too quick a pass. I should have let them come and make smart decisions.”
“Getting wins in the ACC and being able to capitalize on that and finish games out is a big part of what we focus on in practice,” Hall said. “Being able to finish games is going to be big for us down the stretch.”
Hall finished with 13 points, including an 8-for-8 performance from the line in the game’s final four minutes. The Virginia Beach (VA) native scored four consecutive points for the Cavaliers and had a key steal to give Virginia a 10-point edge with 3:19 left. Hall had eight of UVA’s 15 assists and added seven rebounds.
Playing a pivotal role for the third straight contest, Hunter finished with 15 points, two rebounds, two blocks, two steals, one turnover, and provided tough defense against Syracuse’s top scorers, in particular Tyus Battle and Brissett. Hunter excelled, in the first half especially, when getting the ball at the free throw line against the vaunted Syracuse zone, and he and Mamadi Diakite (3 points) combined to give Virginia an 18-0 edge in points off the bench.
“In practice, we use six guys (defenders), so it makes it a little harder to get in to the middle,” said Hunter, who played 27 minutes off the bench. “Once I did get into the middle, in the actual game, there were only two people in front of me instead of three. It was a lot easier to score in the middle than it is in practice. Practice really helped us a lot this game.”
Hunter added: “I was just focusing on the guy in front of me and making sure that no one in the back could tap the ball out. Once I could see the guys (defenders) in my peripheral, it was either the top guy was open or they slid to the corner and I could see that. I just tried to keep everything in front of me.”
Senior forward Isaiah Wilkins paced the Cavaliers with nine boards, five coming on the offensive glass. Rebounding, however, was once again an issue for UVA, which allowed 19 offensive rebounds for the second consecutive game. Syracuse capitalized with 17 second-chance points. Center Paschal Chukwu alone had 16 boards, 10 of those coming on the offensive end.
Syracuse’s triple threat of Howard, Battle and Brissett scored 46 points on 17-of-51 shooting (33.3%). Virginia defended the trio pretty well overall from a field goal percentage standpoint, and Howard (7) and Battle (3) were responsible for 10 of the Orange’s 11 turnovers. Chukwu chipped in nine points while Matthew Moyer had six.
Virginia hosts one more game before a two-game road trip against Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. This Sunday, January 14, the Wahoos take on NC State in John Paul Jones Arena.