No. 12 Virginia uses second-half surge to blow past No. 4 Syracuse

The Cavaliers scored 48 second-half points to beat the Orange, 75-56.

Syracuse came into Charlottesville, Va., determined to prove that it was the best team in the ACC. Unfortunately for the Orange, they did not spoil the Cavalier’s Senior Day, falling 75-56. The loss extended the No. 12 Virginia (25-5, 16-1 ACC) win streak to 13 games and gave the Cavaliers their first outright ACC regular season championship since 1981.

“From what I’ve seen, Virginia has been the best team in the league so far this year,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “They proved that today.”

No. 4 Syracuse (26-3, 13-3 ACC) dropped its third game in ten days, but it still hopes to secure the second seed in the ACC tournament.  Boeheim said a large reason for his team’s defeat was Virginia’s balance at both ends of the court.

“They had a tremendous second half,” Boeheim said of Virginia. “I thought the first half we did as good a job defensively as we could. The second half they hit a couple threes, [and] got it going a little bit. Everybody knows they’re a tremendous defensive team, but I also think they’re a very good three-point shooting team.”

The Syracuse 2-3 zone stifled Virginia early, as the Orange held Virginia to just two points in the first four minutes, leading 6-2 at the first media timeout with 15:55 remaining in the first half. However, Virginia responded with a 6-0 run, prompting Boeheim to call his first timeout with 12:22 remaining.

The Syracuse offense struggled for much of the first half, forcing up several shots as the shot clock expired. Virginia ranked first nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 54.7 points per game, coming into the contest.

C.J. Fair and Tyler Ennis accounted for 17 of the first 20 Syracuse points. After briefly falling behind, a late surge, including two three-point baskets by Trevor Cooney and sophomore forward Michael Gbinije, gave the Orange a 28-27 lead at halftime.

Syracuse had trouble defending the Virginia big men, as Virginia forward Akil Mitchell and center Mike Tobey finished with 12 and 11 points, respectively. Virginia outscored Syracuse 34-24 in the paint and outrebounded the Orange 39-29. Some of Syracuse’s struggles can be attributed to the loss of sophomore forward Jerami Grant, who started the game but left early due to soreness in his back lingering from the Maryland game.

“Not having Jerami hurts, just because he’s so big and athletic,” Cooney said. “Not having him definitely hurts. [But] we’re a big team, we have guys that can come off the bench and help us. Guys are going to have to do that.”

A big reason for Virginia’s second-half turnaround was the improved play of the backcourt trio of freshman guard London Perrantes, sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon, and senior guard Joe Harris. In the first half, Syracuse held them to just three points, but Harris and Perrantes combined to hit three shots from behind the arc in the second half. Furthermore, Brogdon exploded for 17 second-half points. It was the 17th straight game Brogdon scored in double figures, as he posted a career-high 19 points.

“[Brogdon’s] a tremendous player” Boeheim said. “He’s a very good player at both ends. They’ve just got good balance. We have good balance; they have great balance. They have a little more depth coming off the bench.”

With 11:20 remaining, Fair hit two free throws to even the game at 42. Minutes later, down 46-42, Ennis picked up his fourth personal foul with 9:11 remaining, and Virginia never looked back. Virginia finished on a 29-14 run, gaining a lead so comfortable that their walk-ons entered the game with 39 seconds remaining.

The Cavaliers finished the game shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc. Seven of Virginia’s eight three-point field goals came in the second half.

“They were able to get into the zone, break us down, and kick it out to wide-open shooters,” Cooney said. “Guys that weren’t making it in the first half made it in the second half.”

Syracuse’s senior night is Tuesday against Georgia Tech, where the Orange will celebrate the careers of Fair and center Baye Moussa Keita. Boeheim said he hopes he can send them out the same way Virginia sent its seniors out on Saturday afternoon.

“Baye and C.J. have been tremendous for our players,” Boeheim said. “They’ve been part of a team that’s one of the top two or three winning programs in the last four years. They’ve won a lot of games, and they’ve been two key guys for us for four years.”

Robert Elder is an associate editor at The Cavalier Daily.

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