Syracuse holds off Virginia Tech after blowing huge lead

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Virginia Tech nearly overcame a 22-point deficit

Saturday afternoon, Syracuse took a 22-point lead late in the first half at Virginia Tech. They spent the remainder of the game giving almost all of it back and only a missed three-pointer at the buzzer preserved a 68-66 win for the Orange (9-4) over the Hokies (8-6) in the ACC opener for both squads.

Virginia Tech climbed back into the game in the second half, including erasing most of an 11-point deficit in the final 2:30, in large part thanks to some simply terrible free throw shooting by SU. Five different Syracuse players combined to make only 6-of-14 foul shots down the stretch, allowing the hosts to get within two points.

Shooting from the floor also told the tale of two halves, as the Orange shot 7-of-22 (31.8 percent) in the second half. VT bounced back from a 28 percent shooting effort before halftime with a 48.4 percent effort (15-of-31) in the second session, including making 7-of-14 threes after the break. SU also made only 11-of-21 free throws in the second half, including that 6-of-14 mark down the stretch.

Trevor Cooney came out of the blocks aggressively for the Orange, drilling a wide-open three on their first possession. He added on a free throw, then, after Michael Gbinije drilled a wide open three of his own from the left corner, splashed his second triple, this one from the right corner for a 10-6 Syracuse lead.

Following the Hokies’ third trey, Chris McCullough hit a 14-foot jumper. Rakeem Christmas followed that with a quick move to the bucket, scoring while getting fouled. The charity shot put SU in front, 15-9, with five-and-a-half minutes off the clock.

Virginia Tech scored the next four points to make it a two-point game, then the Orange dominated almost the rest of the half. In less than 11 minutes of play, Syracuse rolled up a 25-5 run to blow open the game.

Kaleb Joseph started the run with a pair at the line, then Christmas scored on a short baseline drive, finishing with a reverse lay-up. Cooney then hit Tyler Roberson for a lay-up in transition, then Gbinije made a nice bounce pass from the wing to an open Christmas, who stuffed it home.

Ron Patterson continued the charge after subbing in for Joseph, scoring on an offensive rebound, then tossing an alley-oop to Christmas, who was fouled while dunking. After Christmas completed the three-point-play, Patterson dropped the ball in following a left baseline drive, then bounced it to Roberson for a two-handed slam. Cooney then splashed a three off a Roberson offensive board to cap a streak of ten straight Orange points.

Following two Virginia Tech foul shots, Cooney hit a jumper from the left elbow and Gbinije rained in a three from the left wing off another Roberson offensive rebound. That final shot put Syracuse in front, 40-18, with under three minutes left in the half. The Hokies clipped a few points off the margin and SU was in control at half, 42-23.

Virginia Tech opened the second half with a three while the Orange muddled through the opening minutes. SU missed their first five shots of the second half, finally breaking through when Roberson converted a putback with just over three minutes elapsed in the session.

» Related: Storylines for Syracuse heading into ACC play

The Hokies then scored 18 of the game’s next 23 points, chopping an 18-point Syracuse lead to 49-44 with 8:30 to play. The Orange closed that burst by breaking through the press, cashing in when McCullough shoveled a pass to Christmas for a dunk. VT continued to strike back, splashing a three to get within four points, then a pair of free throws to claw within 51-49.

Cooney dished to Roberson, who snapped the twine on a 17-foot jumper off the right baseline. Following a Virginia Tech free throw, Roberson added two more points, these from the line, then Christmas converted a smooth drop step for a 57-50 Orange lead with under 4:30 to go.

The Hokies dropped in a free throw, but Gbinije finished a left-to-right drive across the key with a lay-up, stretching the lead to eight. Christmas drilled two foul shots on the next possession, then Gbinije hit the front end of a one-and-one on the one after. The made free throw put SU on top, 62-51, with 2:21 on the clock.

Gbinije missed the back end, though, and Virginia Tech immediately began slicing the Orange lead to ribbons, in large part due to bad free throw shooting from Syracuse. The first strike was a triple that made it an eight-point margin.

Gbinije was fouled again and this time missed the front end of a one-and-one. While the Hokies did not score off that miss, Christmas rebounded and was fouled, but only made one of two. A VT lay-up made it 63-56.

Cooney was fouled and only made his second try. The Hokies missed, but Roberson was fouled after rebounding and he only made the first of a set. A Virginia Tech three made it 65-59 with 43 seconds to go.

Patterson made one of two. Tech got a jumper.

Gbinije made one of two. Tech got another jumper.

Patterson again made one of two. Tech got a three-pointer, cutting the lead to 68-66 with just over four seconds to go.

Patterson was fouled again. This time, he missed both.

The Hokies raced upcourt and found an open man in the left corner, but Christmas and Gbinije raced toward him. The shooter had to adjust over the onrushing Christmas and, as a result, his shot fell short, grazing only the outside of the net on the near side and allowing the Orange to escape with the win.

Trevor Cooney buried four treys as part of his team-high 18 points, including 14 in the first half. For the second straight outing, Rakeem Christmas fell one board shy of a double-double, this time ending up with 17 points and nine boards. Christmas also had three blocked shots, as did Chris McCullough.

Tyler Roberson was a leading cause for Christmas not getting that double-double, as he posted the third of his own on the season, this time pulling down 17 boards for SU, including eight on the offensive boards, to go with his 11 points off the bench. Michael Gbinije added ten points, as well as three steals, and Ron Patterson chipped in with eight points in a reserve role.

On the strength of four three-pointers, Justin Bibbs recorded a game-high 22 points and also collected 11 rebounds for the Hokies. Devin Wilson was the only other double-digit scorer for Virginia Tech, finishing with 13 points, and also handed out eight assists. Ahmed Hill kicked in eight points for VT.

Syracuse will finish their two-game road trip to start conference action on Wednesday when they travel to Atlanta to face Georgia Tech. It will be an attempt at revenge for the Orange, as the Yellow Jackets dealt them a 67-62 loss in on Senior Night last year at the Carrier Dome. Georgia Tech (9-4, 0-1 ACC) opened their conference slate on Saturday when they blew a second half lead en route to an 83-76 loss in double overtime at #14 Notre Dame.

Marcus-Georges Hunt paces the Jackets at 13.5 points per game. Charles Mitchell is the only other Georgia Tech player averaging double figures in scoring at 10.6 points per outing along with 7.8 rebounds per game.

While much has been made this season over the Orange’s inability to make three pointers, the Yellow Jackets have shot under 24 percent on the season from beyond the arc and average four threes a game. In contrast, SU is now up to 29 percent from three-point-range and makes 4.5 treys per contest.

ESPNU will televise the game, which will get underway at 7:00pm Eastern. The contest will also be available online on ESPN3.com.

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Jim Stechschulte

About Jim Stechschulte

A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade, where he currently resides. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by NBA.com. Follow him on Twitter @DSafetyGuy.
Syracuse 68, Virginia Tech 66 — What we learned
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