In a game where points were expected to be tough to come by, two second half runs by #3 Virginia were enough to give them a 68-61 home win over Syracuse. The Cavaliers (15-1, 4-0 ACC) used a 12-2 run shortly after halftime to gain control of the contest, then a 10-2 run to build enough of a cushion to hold off a late rally by the Orange (12-5, 1-3).
As has often happened in their losses this season, SU simply could not find enough consistent offense, this time against the stingiest defense in the country. Often forced into trying to create opportunities in one-on-one situations, Syracuse ended up shooting 38.3 percent from the field, with many of those attempts contested, and only 28.6 percent from deep, including just 2-for-12 after halftime.
One bright spot for the Orange was a concerted effort to fix their recent rebounding woes. SU owned a 41-31 rebounding edge in the game with 19 of those rebounds coming on the offensive end. All of those offensive boards were turned into 17 second chance points.
Trailing in the opening minutes, Syracuse strung together a 7-2 run to go in front. Frank Howard started the stretch with a jumper just inside the left elbow that tied the score, then freed himself for a three with a crossover dribble. After a Cavaliers score, Tyus Battle pushed the ball in transition and finished for a 12-9 Orange lead just shy of the midpoint of the half.
SU would hold off Virginia for the next few minutes and actually pushed the margin out to four on a couple occasions, but the hosts rallied for seven straight points to retake the lead at 22-19 with just under six minutes left in the opening half.
Howard’s third three of the opening half would tie the score, but the Cavs held the advantage for the rest of the half and took a 29-26 halftime lead.
Syracuse scored on their first two possessions of the second half to go on top again. Paschal Chukwu shoveled a pass to Matthew Moyer, who coaxed a lay-up to fall, to draw the Orange within one, then Oshae Brissett swished a three from the right corner for a 31-29 advantage.
The lead was short-lived, as the Cavs replied with a 12-2 run to grab an eight-point lead. Three foul shots started the streak, then Virginia added three long bombs to go up, 41-33, with less then six minutes gone in the second half.
The hosts would strengthen their lead to nine points a couple minutes later, but a Chukwu foul shot and mid-range jumpers from Battle and Brissett clipped the gap to 44-40 with 10:30 on the clock.
Virginia would stretch the lead out to eight again, then keep SU at that distance until two sets of foul shots in under 15 seconds gave them a 58-48 lead with just over three minutes to go. Battle hit a jumper to stop the bleeding, but the Cavaliers poured on six more points to make it a 10-2 run for their biggest lead of the night at 64-50. The last two points came at the line after Battle committed his fifth foul and had to leave the fray.
Syracuse would not lay down, though, as Howard sliced in for a lay-up and the press forced three consecutive Virginia turnovers. Howard cashed in the first Cavalier miscue with a three from the left corner, then Chukwu followed the second UVA mistake with a putback. Brissett jumped into a passing lane for a steal and his lay-up swirled around and dropped to make it a 9-0 Orange run and a 64-59 game in just over 30 seconds.
However, that would be the last turnover SU would force and Virginia cashed in two trips to the foul line to hold on for the victory.
Frank Howard connected on four triples for the bulk of his 18 points, but struggled shooting (6-of-20 overall, 2-of-11 in the second half) and turned the ball over seven times. Oshae Brissett ground out 16 points, including 11 after halftime, and Tyus Battle, whose long-range shooting seems to have abandoned him (0-for-7 in the game, 10-of-45 in his last six contests), added a dozen points. Pashcal Chukwu was a force inside, gathering ten of his 16 rebounds on the offensive end and scoring nine points.
Kyle Guy paced Virginia with a game-high 22 points, hitting five treys along the way. De’Andre Hunter provided 15 points off the bench while Devon Hall did a little bit of everything for the Cavaliers with 15 points, eight assists, and seven rebounds. Ty Jerome hit three long balls for all nine of his points.
The schedule does not get much easier for Syracuse, as they will travel to Tallahassee to do battle with #23 Florida State on Saturday. The Seminoles (12-3, 1-2), who have dropped two of their last three games, all against teams ranked in the top 15, host Louisville on Wednesday night.
FSU has three players averaging in double figures in scoring, led by Terrence Mann at 14.5 points per game. Five different Seminoles have made at least 18 threes on the season, including Phil Cofer (13.7 pts/game) and Braian Angola (13.3 pts/game), who both are making over 40 percent from deep on the season. Angola paces Florida State with 34 treys.
Saturday’s contest between SU and FSU will get underway at 2:00pm Eastern and the action will once again be televised by the ACC Network on local affiliates in certain markets. The telecast will also be available online at ESPN3.com.