After the Syracuse Orange jumped out to a 13-2 lead and looked like they could be on their way to their third upset victory over the last few weeks, No. 2-ranked Virginia slapped that idea right out of all of our heads with an absolutely dominant stretch to put the Cavaliers firmly in control. Virginia would dominate on the glass and Syracuse would continue its offensive woes, with the Hoos toppling the Orange 59-47 in a game that really wasn’t that close.
It was a sad ending to the home career of Rakeem Christmas, who scored 10 points but grabbed just four rebounds in the loss. Christmas was 4-of-9 from the field, as the senior was fighting constant double teams whenever he managed to receive a pass in the post, and when he was able to kick the ball out his teammates failed time and again to knock down open looks.
And when you play against a Tony Bennett coached defense, you simply cannot afford to waste scoring chances.
The opening dozen or so minutes were really fool’s gold for the Orange, as Virginia started the game 1-of-11 and quickly turned the ball over 10 times as Syracuse took an early lead. Syracuse still held a 20-14 lead with about three minutes left, but once BJ Johnson went down with an ankle injury at the end of the opening frame, Virginia scored nine straight points to take a 23-20 lead into the break.
There are plenty of reasons that Syracuse wilted against the team’s second best team, but more than anything else, it was Virginia’s unbelievable dominance on the backboards. The Hoos controlled the glass on both ends of the floor, finishing the game with a staggering 42-20 edge. Yes, that’s 20 rebounds for Syracuse, collectively. Tyler Roberson has twice come close to matching that total by himself this year, yet he and his Orange teammates were thoroughly outworked.
Virginia was able to convert 16 offensive rebounds into 15 second chance points, and to really put how completely dominated Syracuse was, let’s put it this way: Virginia had 16 offensive rebounds, while Syracuse had just 14 defensive rebounds. That is a mind blowing statistic. Not all of the offensive rebounds were just the Cavs outworking the Orange, either. On several trips, missed shots fell all the way to the ground and either Syracuse players couldn’t hang on to the rebound, or somehow didn’t even get a hand on it in the first place. It was frustrating to watch, and continued the trend that started on Saturday against Duke in which the opponent just entirely out-hustled and out-muscled the Orange.
Of course, Virginia didn’t just need second chance opportunities to take control of the game. In fact, when Virginia really seized the reins and began to come back and then pull away, it was because of all the shots they weren’t missing. At one point, after starting the game going 1-of-11 as a team, the Hoos hit 16 of their next 21 attempts. For a team that’s not known for offense, they managed to put on a truly special and, if you’re a Syracuse fan, infuriating display, scoring 31 points in an eight and a half minute stretch between the end of the first half and the start of the second.
At the same time, the Orange were predictably struggling to score against the best defensive team in the country. The Orange finished the game shooting just 38.3% from the field, and made just 4-of-19 three point attempts. Michael Gbinije continued his recent struggles, turning the ball over five times and not making a field goal until late in the second half. Gbinije finished with eight points on 2-of-11 shooting, hitting just 1-of-6 three pointers. The best way to sum up the kind of night it was for Gbinije and the Orange offense happened when Syracuse cut it to a 45-35 game, and Gbinije got a wide open, clean look at a three from the corner that could have shifted the momentum fully in Syracuse’s favor…and missed.
After being so fantastic during the middle part of the season, Gbinije has really come crashing back down to earth lately. He’s made just 13-of-48 from the field over his last four games, including just 4-of-20 from beyond the arc. Over that same four game stretch, he’s turned the ball over 15 times. To make matters worse, Trevor Cooney hasn’t been much better. Cooney finished the game with a team-best 14 points, but once again struggled to find his range. Cooney wasn’t terrible from the field overall, hitting 5-of-12 shots, but he made just 2-of-8 three pointers. Cooney has made just 5-of-35 three pointers in the last five games. For those keeping track at home, that’s very, very bad.
Getting the start in place of Kaleb Joseph, who played only a couple minutes late in the second half before being quickly yanked and banished back to the bench in favor of Buss Patterson, BJ Johnson also struggled to shoot the ball against Virginia. The sophomore swingman was 1-of-6 from the field and 1-of-5 from three, and only snagged three rebounds in the game.
Once Virginia made some adjustments and stopped turning the ball over, they simply picked apart the 2-3 zone of Syracuse. Anthony Gill completely controlled the paint, working in the high post and crashing the offensive glass on his way to 17 points and nine boards – an astonishing seven of which came on the offensive end of the floor. London Perrantes was exceptional in running the Virginia offense, scoring 10 points and dishing out 10 assists against just one turnover, and the Hoos were able to overcome a subpar game by Malcolm Brogdon, who scored 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting and snagged just one rebound, thanks to a good effort from Mike Tobey off the bench. Tobey scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds, and while Evan Nolte only scored six points, they came on two very timely three pointers in situations where it looked like the Orange might be able to actually chip into the margin.
This has been a Syracuse team with a lot of deficiencies all season, and chief among them was scoring the basketball. Tyler Roberson showed some nice flashes attacking the rim, but looked disinterested in rebounding, basically negating his impact on the game. As usual, the opposing guards were able to penetrate the zone with ease, leading to far too many good looks for Virginia once they finally stopped turning it over on every possession. Syracuse could not afford to play bad defense and give up second chance opportunities if it wanted to have a shot at toppling Virginia, but that’s exactly what they did. When you can’t score, you can’t give the opponent easy, ample chances at the other end of the court.
Unfortunately for Syracuse and especially for senior Rakeem Christmas, who played his last game in the Carrier Dome tonight, the utter dominance on the glass, the putrid offense, and an overall poor defensive effort was a recipe for a loss.