For the second straight game, the Virginia basketball team had a shot in the final minute to take the lead against an ACC foe despite struggling with shooting and turnovers for much of the contest. Unfortunately for the Hoos, they missed that opportunity and dropped back-to-back games for the first time in nearly three years. Syracuse took the conference win Saturday after an explosive overtime period, 63-55.
It’s unusual territory for the UVA basketball program in recent years, but coach Tony Bennett said that it’s important for the Cavaliers to rely on one of their pillars and remain unified as they try to straighten things out.
“That’s the message. Learn from it, try to control what we can control. I said don’t hang your head, but don’t you dare think this was just a fluke,” Bennett said. “Look at it for what it is. We have to keep getting better and, of course, you have to stay together. It’s easy to divide the house – it’s him, it’s this, it’s that – but you have to be able to win together and you have to be able to lose together and then grow. And that’s what we’ll do.”
Virginia’s second straight setback hinged on familiar themes for this season, though that hasn’t always resulted in a loss. The Cavaliers couldn’t consistently make any shots and they committed many unforced turnovers with questionable decision-making or loose handle around traffic. Throw in missed chances for some timely defensive stops and you’ve got the recipe for potential losses.
The Hoos finished at 31.3% shooting overall and 22.6% from 3-point range with 15 turnovers. That 3-point shooting number was dressed up a little with a pair of makes on three attempts in overtime, both of which came after the Orange pushed out to a double-digit lead. Prior to the extra session, UVA had made just 5 of 28 long-range attempts, a paltry 17.9%.
Jay Huff led the Wahoos with 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting and added 10 rebounds for his second career double-double (the other came in the season opener at Syracuse). Kihei Clark and Mamadi Diakite chipped in 13 points each, while Braxton Key added 7 points and 11 rebounds.
The hosts’ recurring shooting problems offensively were there again, though. Still, Virginia had a chance to steal the win in the final minute. Deadlocked at 43 all following an Elijah Hughes go-ahead attempt for Syracuse, UVA took possession with little difference between the shot clock and game clock, meaning it should get the final shot at the win.
The Hoos worked the ball around the Orange zone, got a paint touch with Diakite, and when the defense collapsed a pop-out pass to Clark wide open on the left side. Clark, the team’s leading 3-point shooter at better than 39% on the season, lined up the look and let it fly. It bounced off the rim, however, and overtime followed.
So did disaster for the Hoos.
They opened OT with a Diakite layup that came through an offensive sequence of inside-out pass, swing pass, and extra pass to the baseline, but Syracuse responded with a trio of haymakers. First, Hughes hit a 3-pointer on the left side. On the next possession, Joe Girard got another 3-pointer to go down. Finally, following a blocked shot on a Clark drive, the Orange got Buddy Boeheim free in transition for a third triple in a row.
Suddenly, Virginia was down 52-45 and it couldn’t mount a comeback. A Boeheim heave from near halfcourt that banked in off the glass to beat a shot clock violation later in the overtime period just added a little extra sting.
“Well they hit three threes on the first three possessions,” UVA’s Jay Huff said. “That’s tough to come back from. I mean a lot of it was that they made shots and we didn’t. We had a few costly turnovers and our shots weren’t falling.”
“I thought we just relaxed,” Diakite said. “And that’s not a coaching mistake, that comes from us, the players and, I know we are young but we just have to know that at that point in the game, with the home game, we have an advantage and we need to take that advantage and use it. We weren’t smart enough to do that, we weren’t helping each other defensively, we weren’t doing what we were doing before the overtime.”
Syracuse’s 20-point eruption in overtime didn’t follow the second half script where the visitors managed only 19 points. Much like the Hoos, the Orange had struggled to make shots during regulation before the OT outburst. They shot 25.9% (14 of 54) overall and just 29.2% from 3-point range (7 of 24) until the final five minutes. Cuse missed only one shot in the extra period including 5-of-6 shooting 83.3% from 3-point range.
Girard led his team with 19 points, while Hughes tallied 18 points and 9 rebounds. Boeheim finished with 14 points, while Marek Dolezaj put up 7 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 assists.
“We have to make shots and in the second half I thought we got good shots,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “I thought Buddy, Joe, and Elijah got the shots that we are going to have to make. In the overtime, they got those same shots and they made them. For us to win we have to make those shots. We got one lucky one, but that’s ok. Sometimes you have to get a little bit lucky. We’ve had a couple go in against us this year so we’ll go for that.”
UVA will try to steal a page from that playbook as it faces consecutive losses for the first time since the 2016-2017 season. Prior to grabbing its first win at the John Paul Jones Arena, Syracuse had lost back-to-back games itself. The Cavaliers have a tough schedule ahead with road games at No. 10 Florida State and Georgia Tech up next week followed by NC State at home and Wake Forest on the road.
The Hoos are trying to lean on the unity pillar with those challenges on the horizon.
“We are going to have to learn and move on and get better,” Diakite said. “We have another large caliber game coming up, we are going there to Florida [State]. If we play the same way we did today it will not be good for us. What I’m hearing from that is, we as players have to be coaches, we have to be leaders. The coaches can do whatever they can, but if at the end of the day the players are not stepping up and doing what they are supposed to do, it’s not going to happen. So we have to do it all together, unity.”