While their three best players went in the NBA Draft last summer, Virginia did not allow their team’s excellent defense to leave with them. Rather, the #11 Cavaliers exploited the inexperienced Syracuse backcourt in the season debut of both teams, denying just about everything as they completely shut down the Orange at the Carrier Dome, 48-34. SU posted the lowest scoring total of Jim Boeheim’s 44-year tenure in the game.
Syracuse’s early struggles led to frustration that was easily visible in rushed shots as soon as the tiniest sliver of space became available. The Orange made a meager 23.6 percent of their field goal tries, including just 5-of-29 (17.2 percent) of their three-pointers. There were multiple airballs and a missed shot bouncing off the top of the backboard as SU simply could not solve the Virginia defense for even the briefest time.
Bourama Sidibe got the opening score a couple minutes into the game, but the Cavalier defense then took over. Syracuse went without a point for the next 9:04, missing 11 consecutive shots from the field. By the end of that dry stretch, Virginia held a double-digit lead at 13-2.
When the Orange snapped out of that drought, they did so by scoring eight straight points. Elijah Hughes snapped the cold spell with a three and Marek Dolezaj added a short push shot. With a little under six minutes on the clock in the opening half, Buddy Boeheim connected on a three from the right wing, pulling Syracuse within 13-10.
The Cavaliers responded by scoring inside twice, but SU responded with a pair of driving lay-ups, one from Hughes and the other from Boeheim, to pull within three again. The guests, however, scored on three of their last four possessions of the half to take a 25-19 lead at the break.
Syracuse managed to stay within arm’s reach for the first five-and-a-half minutes of the second half, but Virginia rolled off a 16-4 run, closing with an 11-1 span that gave them a 46-28 lead with six minutes to play.
When Dolezaj scored on a putback with under 4:30 on the clock, it marked the first Orange field goal since the 11:07 mark. SU added scores on their next two possessions, but there was no real comeback to be had.
Elijah Hughes had the best shooting night of any Syracuse player to attempt at least three field goals, making 4-of-14 shots and 3-of-10 from deep as he scored 14 points. Buddy Boeheim added seven points. Marek Dolezaj led the team with nine rebounds.
The Orange will go back to the drawing board before their next game against Colgate. The Raiders opened their slate by defeating the New Jersey Institute of Technology Wednesday night, 80-75. Four players reached double figures for Colgate, led by Rapolas Ivanauskas, who had 24 points and eight boards, and Will Rayman, who posted an 18-point, 12-rebound double-double. The Raiders will travel to Clemson on Sunday before facing SU.
The Syracuse-Colgate game will start at 7:00pm Eastern next Wednesday night at the Carrier Dome and will be televised by regional sports networks.