SU’s 34 points across 40 minutes marked its worst performance since the end of World War II. The ACC Network’s hope for an opening showcase fell flat, as offensive concerns emerged for Syracuse even considering the opponent, arguably the best defense in the sport. Jim Boeheim has now lost four straight to Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers.
Here are three takeaways from the game.
Shooting not as good as advertised
Virginia’s pack line defense collapsed and repeatedly held Elijah Hughes, Buddy Boeheim, Jalen Carey — fill in a name — from the interior. The lack of penetration led to flat three-point attempts that flew both over the rim and off the backboard (Hughes) and flat off the front of the rim (Buddy). Syracuse’s shooters couldn’t create the threes for themselves, especially with double-teams appearing and quickly disappearing.
Buddy and Hughes struggled (4-for-18 3-pt) and the rest of the team followed suit. Boeheim’s insertion of Joe Girard and Brycen Goodine did not bolster the three-point attack. Marek Dolezaj received two golden looks from the top of the arc out of halftime and missed both, one air-balling.
The Orange shot 5-for-29 (17.2 percent) from three in the loss. Hughes and Boeheim provided several sparks from mid-range, while Dolezaj created a look for Boeheim and himself rolling in-between Virginia’s two layers of pressure.
Syracuse’s 14-point burst to close the first half only got SU within a possession. Neither spot-up shooting nor dribble penetration crafted the consistent offense needed to establish a lead.
Defense, especially back line, solid
Boeheim inserted Marek Dolezaj in a surprise move late before tip-off in place of where Quincy Guerrier started all summer. The adjustment paid immediate dividends defensively, with five returning players manning the zone.
While a thick, nervous stream of noise hung from over 22,000 in attendance, both teams traded a pair of misses in the opening minutes. Syracuse struck first when Virginia’s defense bit on Carey, sliding up to leave Bourama Sidibe inside for a layup.
Syracuse’s offense opened with a 1-for-13 “start,” but the zone cut off a back-line three attempt, stopped four straight threes and largely prevented any Virginia penetration. Until the closing minutes, as fans spilled out with five minutes to go and Girard’s head hung after a miss, Syracuse’s defense got hands on balls, rotated and contested shots.
The defense held the Cavaliers to 40% shooting from the field and 16 percent from three.
No game-breaker, yet
Tyus Battle isn’t walking through that door. Mamadi Diakite, with 12 points and four offensive boards, did for the Cavaliers.
Virginia returned few players aside from Diakite from their national championship team. Aside from a few bailout threes from Hughes, Diakite provided the only lockdown moments of the game. Guerrier entered off the bench shooting almost exclusively from three in a sour debut.
UVA failed to reach 50 in a game that finished miles short of the over, but received several key 10-foot jumpers from Diakite. Those turned into put-backs and face-up drives later in the game that separated UVA offensively. Jay Huff and got hands on loose misses through Dolezaj and Sidibe repeatedly,
Syracuse placed Hughes, Carey and Girard on the ball. None of them could break the offense open creating for themselves and others. Dolezaj drew closest as a creator, but scored only four points.