In new year, Syracuse displays stifling defense against Virginia Tech

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Tyus Battle reacts to a 3-point shot during the second half

Sunday evening, Syracuse left both 2017 and Virginia Tech behind, holding off an early second half charge to cruise to a 68-56 win at the Carrier Dome in the ACC debut for both teams.  The Orange (12-2) played the same stingy defense they had shown most of the season, only this time it snuffed out the Hokies (11-3), who entered the game with one of the most high-powered offenses in the nation.

Virginia Tech, who averaged over 120 points per 100 possessions before coming to SU, needed a push in the final two minutes to crack 50 points.  Syracuse was energetic on defense, using quick rotations and hard closeouts to force misses, holding the guests to 19 points on a measly 26.1 percent effort from the field in the opening half.

Even when the Hokies got things going on after halftime, the Orange punished them on the glass, outrebounding their opponents by a 22-9 margin in the second half.  That came on the heels of a first half where the teams tied at 17 caroms a side.

While it was not always pretty, the Syracuse offense was solid, hitting a hair under 49 percent from the field.  SU also hit 17-of-20 foul shots on the night.

The Orange got the first two baskets of the game, but their four-point margin was the largest for either side in the opening 12 minutes of play.  Virginia Tech would grab a pair of leads in that time, each just a single point, with the latter coming at 14-13 on a three-pointer just past the midpoint of the half.

That trey would be the last Hokie field goal for a span of 7:42.  Up a single point with just under eight minutes left in the opening half after a pair of VT foul shots, the SU offense took off for ten straight points.

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Frank Howard muscled in for a leaner for the first score, then Tyus Battle connected on a pull-up jumper on the next Syracuse possession.  A couple minutes later, Howard drilled a three-pointer off the bounce from the right wing.  Marek Dolezaj pounced on a loose ball a couple Orange possessions later and passed to Howard, who fed Battle for a three from the left wing and a 27-16 lead with under four minutes left in the first half.

Virginia Tech got a three to stop their offensive drought, but Howard connected on another three, then Battle swished a jumper from the elbow for a 32-19 SU lead that carried to intermission.

Oshae Brissett drove for a lay-up on a nice baseline inbounds play to push the lead to 15 on the first Syracuse possession of the second half, but the Hokies’ perimeter shooting clicked, as they made four consecutive triples.  The hot streak narrowed the margin to 34-31.

Brissett ended a five-plus minute scoreless streak for the Orange with a nifty drive down the lane that started an 11-0 run for SU.  Brissett was fouled on the next possession and, after he and the Hokies’ Justin Robinson were assessed technical fouls for an exchange of ideas, made both foul shots.  Howard backed into the paint for a short jumper.  Battle slashed and zipped a pass to Matthew Moyer streaking in the left baseline for a slam dunk, then swished a three from the right side to force a Virginia Tech timeout with SU in front, 45-31.

The Hokies came out of the break with a three, but Brissett finished a drive, then added a pair of free throws on the next trip.  Howard flipped in a close shot to make it 17 of 20 points for the Orange and push the lead to 51-34 with a little over eight minutes remaining.

The guests chipped away at the gap, getting within 13, but Syracuse finished with one last flourish, a 10-3 run that pushed the lead to 20.

Battle again found Moyer for an emphatic slam, this time cutting in on the right side, to start the stretch.  Following a VT free throw, Brissett spun free to finish on the left side and Battle drained a floater in the key to nudge the lead to 18 points.  Battle then matched a Hokie basket with two foul shots and Moyer converted a lay-up off the offensive boards for a 66-46 lead with under 2:30 to play.

Virginia Tech turned to their full-court press, which paid immediate dividends, as they rang up eight points in under a minute.  It proved to be too little, too late, though, when the Orange broke the press and milked the clock before eventually getting two free throws from Howard to settle the game down with 1:07 left.  All the Hokies would add after that would be two foul shots to close the scoring.

Oshae Brissett topped the Orange with 19 points, falling one rebound shy of a double-double.  Tyus Battle and Frank Howard each had 17 points in the game with the latter dropping in three triples for most of his 11 points before halftime.  Matthew Moyer was the fourth SU player in double figures, grabbing a personal-best 13 rebounds to go with 11 points for his first career double-double.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker hit four threes as part of his team-high 19 points for Virginia Tech.  Justin Robinson and Justin Bibbs were the only other Hokies to crack double figures, scoring ten points apiece.

The Orange will face their first ACC road challenge on Wednesday when they travel to Wake Forest.  The Demon Deacons (7-6, 0-1 ACC) have dropped their last two games, including a 73-69 contest at #13 North Carolina in their ACC opener, after stringing together six straight wins.

Guards Keyshawn Woods and Bryant Crawford are the top scorers for Wake, averaging 15.7 and 15.4 points per game, respectively.  Both players are among four Demon Deacons averaging more than one three per game, a group led by Mitchell Wilbekin, who has 25 treys in 13 games.

Wednesday’s contest between Syracuse and Wake Forest will get underway at 7:00pm Eastern and be televised by ESPNU.  The telecast will also be available online at ESPN3.com.

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Jim Stechschulte
About Jim Stechschulte 486 Articles
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.