Late surge sparks Virginia Tech past Syracuse basketball

Elijah Hughes Va Tech
Jan 8, 2020: Syracuse Orange forward Elijah Hughes (33) looks to drive against Virginia Tech Hokies guard Wabissa Bede (3) during a 67-63 loss at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Initra Marilyn, The Juice Online.

Virginia Tech dominated for just over four minutes of play on Tuesday night, but that was more than enough to propel them to a 67-63 win over Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. The Hokies (11-4, 2-2 ACC) used a 21-4 run in the middle of the second half to free themselves from a nine-point deficit and take command of the game. The Orange (8-7, 1-3 ACC) aided their guests’ cause during the crucial span, committing fouls on a pair of made three-point shots.

Virginia Tech entered the game with one of the lowest free throw rates in the nation, but went the charity line 19 times in the second half alone, converting 15. SU, meanwhile, went cold from all over after the break, making just 36.7 percent of their shots in the second session, including a meager 2-for-10 mark from beyond the arc. That poor marksmanship came on the heels of a first half where they shot 52.2 percent overall and made 4-of-7 threes.

The Hokies showed patience against the Syracuse zone despite a rough start and missing several open three-point shots. Of the 21 VT field goals on the night, 20 were assisted.

The Orange stitched together the first run of the night of the heels of a pair of Hokie scores. After Virginia Tech grabbed an early lead, Joe Girard III swished a long straightaway three to erase the deficit. Marek Dolezaj made a soft touch pass to set up Bourama Sidibe on an alley-oop to give SU the lead, then Girard left the ball for Buddy Boeheim to hit a left wing three to make it eight straight points for a 12-7 Syracuse lead a little over seven minutes into the action.

With seven minutes left in the opening half, the Orange went on another run, this one a 12-3 burst. Boeheim spun in the paint for a short jumper, then Quincy Guerrier flipped in a putback under the basket and connected on a pair of free throws.

Girard chased a Hokie three-pointer with a stepback jumper from the right side. Dolezaj drained both ends of a one-and-one, then stuffed home a two-handed dunk on the left baseline off a slick bounce pass from Elijah Hughes. The dunk pushed SU to a 30-19 lead and forced a Virginia Tech timeout with two minutes left in the half.

The break in the action worked, as VT nailed a pair of threes once the game resumed. Each team scored once more before halftime with Syracuse getting a Girard three for a 33-27 advantage.

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While both teams struggled on offense coming out of the locker room, the Orange pushed the lead back out to nine points on a pair of occasions, aided by the Hokies going over five minutes without a field goal. When Virginia Tech broke through, though, they did so in style, making a four-point play to jumpstart their 21-4 streak.

SU even responded to that four-point play with a Hughes jumper, but the Hokies ran off seven points to knot the game, gave up a pair of free throws, then posted ten more points for a 52-44 lead coming out of the under-eight media timeout.

Syracuse could not consistently score after that point. They got within five points on three separate occasions and eventually within 57-54 on a Sidibe putback with just over two minutes to go, but the Hokies answered with a triple to double their lead.

The Orange again scrapped back, getting within three points on three more occasions, but they simply could not get a stop and Virginia Tech made five of six foul shots in the final 90 seconds to keep the hosts at bay.

Elijah Hughes paced SU with 18 points, 13 of them coming after the break. Joe Girard III and Quincy Guerrier each had a dozen points, the latter coming one rebound shy of a double-double. Buddy Boeheim had an off shooting night (4-of-12 from the floor), but collected ten points.

Jalen Cone poured in 16 of his career-high 19 points in the second half to lead all scorers. Cone hit five threes in the game, four of them after halftime. Landers Nolley II struggled shooting the ball, but had 13 points while P.J. Horne had a dozen. Tyrece Radford chipped in with seven points and a game-high nine boards.

The Orange take to the road this weekend, traveling to #18 Virginia for a rematch with the defending national champions. The Cavaliers (11-3, 3-1) dispatched SU at the Carrier Dome in the season opener, 48-34. Elijah Hughes was the only Syracuse player to reach double figures in the game, posting 14 points, while Mamadi Diakite, Virginia’s leading scorer at 12.9 points per game, led the guests with a dozen.

The Hoos had a three-game win streak snapped Tuesday night when Boston College gave them their first conference loss, 60-53. Braxton Key paced Virginia with 16 points in the loss, but may have re-injured his left wrist in the game.

As they have much of the season, the Cavaliers struggled from long range. They came into the game making just 28 percent of their three-point attempts and went just 3-for-16 against BC.

Saturday’s action will get underway at 4:00pm Eastern on ESPN.

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Jim Stechschulte
About Jim Stechschulte 600 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.