No. 11 men’s basketball comfortably defeated ACC foe Syracuse 48-34 Wednesday night to kick off its title defense.
The Cavaliers (1-0, 1-0 ACC) and the Orange (0-1, 0-1 ACC) started off slowly, as both offenses looked to find their identity against their opponent’s unique defensive systems. The Orange kicked off the scoring with a layup by junior forward Bourama Sidibe but then proceeded to go cold from the field as the Cavaliers built a 13-2 lead.
Virginia’s pack line defense played a huge role in a difficult opening 10 minutes for Syracuse. The Cavaliers forced the Orange into tough three-pointers and congested driving lanes. Nevertheless, with 9:12 left in the first-half, Syracuse junior forward Elijah Hughes hit a three-pointer, cutting the Cavaliers’ lead to eight points.
This sparked an 8-0 run for the Orange, which was capped off by a three-pointer by sophomore guard Buddy Boeheim — who hit 35 percent of his three-point shots in his freshman season.
However, for the rest of the first half, Syracuse couldn’t cut Virginia’s lead to less than three points, as the Cavaliers were able to get inside the paint against Coach Jim Boeheim’s trademark 2-3 matchup zone. Five of Virginia’s last six buckets came off of layups and dunks as the Cavaliers’ veteran frontcourt powered them into half-time up 25-19.
As the second half started, the teams continued their defensive battle. After some back and forth, the Cavaliers took advantage of a dunk by junior center Jay Huff and a three-pointer by sophomore guard Kihei Clark to extend their lead to 30-21. Huff and Clark, who averaged a combined 8.9 points last season, scored 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Down nine points, the Orange began using a full-court press, looking to speed up the Virginia offense and force the inexperienced team into turnovers. However, Syracuse couldn’t generate nearly enough scoring despite the efforts of Hughes, who finished the game with 14 points. Going into the final 10 minutes of the game, Virginia found themselves holding a 37-27 lead over Boeheim’s squad.
The Cavaliers continued to build their lead in the later stages of the game. Virginia put on a defensive clinic — a common sight for Cavalier fans — holding the Orange to just 15 points in the second half as Syracuse fans in the Carrier Dome began to head for the exits. On the shoulders of its defense, Virginia resoundingly defeated the Orange by 14 points to kick off its national title defense.
Overall, the Cavaliers' seasoned frontcourt was rock-solid with senior forward Mamadi Diakite posting 12 points and six rebounds and Huff grabbing 12 rebounds in addition to 11 points of his own. Senior guard Braxton Key was also a strong presence on the glass, securing 10 rebounds along with seven points.
Clark, the most experienced player in Virginia’s backcourt, excelled on both sides of the ball, recording his first career double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Although known for his defense prowess, the Woodland Hills, Calif. native made his name heard on the offensive side of the ball as Cavalier fans expect big things from the 5-foot-9 guard this season.
Virginia returns to Charlottesville Sunday night to face in-state rival James Madison. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. and the game will be broadcast live on ESPNU.