Two teams known for their defensive excellence met Tuesday night at the John Paul Jones Arena. In the end, Virginia (15-1, 4-0 ACC), defeated the Syracuse Orange (12-5, 1-3 ACC) behind a barrage of second-half three point shots and free throws.
Second year guard, Kyle Guy, led the Hoos in scoring and came away with 22 points on 6-14 shooting, including five from distance. His shooting was matched by Syracuse guard, Frank Howard, who finished with 18 points, as well as forward Oshae Brissett, who had 16 points, to go along with 8 rebounds.
Guy got the Hoos off to a hot start in the opening minutes, connecting on two of his first three shots from downtown. However, the two defenses would settle in after that and both teams struggled to score for much of the first half.
Syracuse got out to a slim lead on impressive shooting from Howard and Tyus Battle, but their run was matched by redshirt freshman, De’Andre Hunter, who found a soft spot in the Orange’s zone and scored 8 straight points to keep the Hoos within a single possession.
Hunter would stay hot, scoring Virginia’s last five points of the half and ending the period with 13 points on 5-8 shooting, along with 3 free throws. The Hoos would enter the break with a slim 29-26 lead.
The second half was an absolute avalanche of three pointers for Virginia. It was not until 6:27 was remaining on the clock that the offense made a field goal inside the arc. The period started with a foul on a Kyle Guy three pointer, of which he made all three shots. Second year guard, Ty Jerome would then make three consecutive long bombs, first in transition, then from the top of the key, and finally a long contested one off center.
The threes would keep falling. Over the next five minutes, Kyle Guy would hit two, and senior guard, Devon Hall, would add one of his own. Syracuse held tough however, making difficult shots to keep within a single digit margin.
When Hunter would finally tip in a missed layup for the first two-point basket of the half, Virginia held a 54-46 lead with around six minutes to play.
This is where Devon Hall began to take over. After a tough first period in which he only scored two points, he forced his way to the foul line, where he would hit all eight of his attempts in the half. He would finish with 13 points, seven rebounds, and eight assists. His play essentially iced the game, eventually pushing the lead to 14 points with a little over a minute to play.
Syracuse made a late push by implementing a full-court pressure defense and managed to pull within seven, but the game would end far before they posed any real threat.
De’Andre Hunter is Asserting Himself
Since being shifted to the power forward position, De’Andre Hunter has thrived. He is playing with more confidence on the offensive end while playing terrific defense. He spent much of the night guarding Frank Howard, and forced him to make tremendously difficult shots. He was the only player on the night who truly beat Syracuse’s zone, by standing in the mid-range soft spot and knocking it down. Although he was not the game’s highest scorer, he was easily the MVP. His play recently is incredibly promising and he could prove to be a valuable asset as we get deeper into the season.
In Tony We Trust
Syracuse is very tall team. Tony Bennett was clearly aware of this and the challenges it presented, which likely is why guard Nigel Johnson only saw three minutes of action in the contest. Johnson has provided an incredible spark off the bench in recent games and has solidified himself as a rotational player deserving of minutes. However, at 6’1, he is the smallest player on the squad, and Bennett elected to keep him on the bench due to the problems that presented on defense. Bennett has always cited matchups as the reasoning of his rotations, which explains a lot of why we haven’t seen nearly as much of Jay Huff as we were expecting at the season’s beginning. He played his cards correctly tonight, and the 14-1 record would indicate that he knows what he’s doing.
The Hoos finish their three-game home stand on Sunday night, against NC State.