The largest crowd to watch a college basketball game this season attended the Virginia and Syracuse contest on Saturday. Most of those 27,083 fans left disappointed as the Cavaliers sliced through the host Orange, 59-44. That’s the fewest points ever scored by Syracuse in the Carrier Dome.
Of course, that final score looked fairly similar to a lot of other opponents. Saturday’s game marked the 11th time this season that the Hoos held an opponent to fewer than 50 points. As a result, UVA owns a 22-1 record overall with an 11-0 mark in the ACC.
UVA coach Tony Bennett liked what he saw from his team on defense regardless of holding Cuse to a record low in the building.
“What excites me is the quality of possessions and guarding them. Those numbers and records don’t matter,” Bennett said. “I just saw persistence and being in the way of their shots and our guys didn’t let down from start to finish cause we knew that would be key. I have so much respect for coach [Jim] Boeheim and the job he’s done and they played good zone and they’re a little short-handed with [Matthew] Moyer not being fully healthy so I get that, but you still gotta come in here and you still gotta make people shoot tough shots and rebound better. … Thankful and happy our guys played it from start to finish.”
Cuse hung tough for the first 10 minutes as it made five of its first 12 shots to force a 13-13 tie at the 10:22 mark. From there, however, the Cavalier defense began to stifle any openings. The Orange made just 12 of their remaining 39 attempts (30.8%) and they finished the game 17 of 51 (33.3%) overall. That included a rough outing from 3-point range where they went 4 of 21 (19%).
The Hoos have limited all but one team – Louisville on Wednesday night – to lower than 50% shooting this season. They’ve also kept ACC opponents in check in the first half throughout the season, holding opponents to 28 or fewer points in all 11 games. The Orange had 21 at intermission Saturday.
Virginia also shut down one area that Syracuse thrived on in Charlottesville on Jan. 9: offensive rebounding and second chance points. In that 68-61 victory for the Hoos, Cuse grabbed 19 offensive rebounds to produce 17 second chance points. This time around, the Orange pulled down just six offensive rebounds for three second chance points. Virginia senior Isaiah Wilkins played a big role there with a team-high six defensive rebounds. He also blocked four shots to move into a tie with Travis Watson for third on the all-time list with 130 career blocks.
With just six free throws and four transition points thrown in, it all added up to a tough day in the dome. Tyus Battle led the Orange with 15 points, while Frank Howard added 11. Those two players made 10 of 34 attempts on the day.
“They’re a great defensive team,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “We just weren’t able to get good shots against them for the most part.”
“They do a great job playing in the gaps,” Howard said. “They pressure the ball well. They force us into a lot of tough shots tonight. Kudos to them. That’s their M.O. They’re a great defensive team. We’ve just got to be better.”
While Syracuse struggled to make shots, Virginia picked apart the Orange zone and knocked down 48.9% of its attempts (23 of 47). The Hoos moved the ball with purpose to get good looks against Boeheim’s zone and later in the game shredded attempts at fullcourt pressure and halfcourt traps to set up dunks on the back end. As a result, they logged 19 assists on those 23 made shots.
In the end, UVA had three players in double figures and three more with six points each. De’Andre Hunter helped pick apart the Syracuse defense for the second time this season and led the way with 15 points on five-of-six shooting. He also dished out six assists. During the second half, Hunter repeatedly dropped passes from the free throw line for teammates to dunk along the baseline. He also dribbled out of fullcourt pressure and hit a spinning and-one bucket that will make his long-term highlight reel.
Kyle Guy scored 14 points as he made four of 11 3-pointers, which extended his streak of games with at least one triple to 23 games. That’s the longest streak since Joe Harris did in 23 straight games back in 2013-14. Mamadi Diakite matched his career high with 12 points on five-of-seven shooting. That included a shot-clock beating rainbow after grabbing a fumbled pass that only added to Cuse fans’ frustration. Wilkins added six points as did Jack Salt.
When you consider that Ty Jerome tallied only six points on 2-of-8 shooting and Devon Hall, who is still bouncing back from an early week illness, did not score at all, it was an impressive outing for the Hoos to win by 15 points.
“I think that’s always an important key against zones, finding ways to get it to the high post, and it’s nice when you have guys in there that are making the right plays,” Bennett said. “Zay hit a couple shots, and De’Andre’s very good at that, and then we were sliding in and out our perimeter guys who are used to making those decisions cause they’re surrounding you from behind and the sides and sometimes it’s just either making the pass or the shot, could be baseline or wing and I like what our guys did.”
With the latest victory, Virginia now owns a 5-0 record on the road in league play. That moved the six-season record to 31-19 in ACC away games, which leads the league over that time period. The Hoos already have locked up a top eight finish in the league and are closing in on a double bye in the ACC Tournament. They currently have a three-game lead in the loss column with seven games to play in the race for the regular season title.
This sets up an interesting week for the Hoos. They travel to Florida State on Wednesday for a 7 p.m. showdown with the Seminoles. They own a 7-15 road record against FSU and have a 5-20 record in their last 25 games in the state of Florida. That includes the season-ending loss in the NCAA Tournament last season in Orlando.
After that trip, Virginia returns to the John Paul Jones Arena on Saturday for a rivalry game with Virginia Tech on Saturday at 6:15 p.m. ESPN announced that College Gameday will air live from the JPJ on Saturday morning. This is the third time in four years (2015, 2016) that UVA will host the network’s signature pregame show.