UVA holds on to win at Syracuse 74-69 in first game in 10 days

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA – DECEMBER 22: Head coach Tony Bennett of the Virginia Cavaliers reacts to a play in the first half during a game against the Clemson Tigers at John Paul Jones Arena on December 22, 2021 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images)

SYRACUSE, NY (UVA Athletics) – After trailing for all but about 20 seconds of the first 20 minutes, Syracuse took its first lead early in the second half Saturday night, and the home crowd at the Carrier Dome roared.

Virginia responded with six straight points.

The Orange went ahead again at the 13:27 mark, and the Cavaliers responded with seven straight points to go up 52-47.

UVA never trailed again. Syracuse tied the game at 52-52 with 9:23 remaining, but Virginia ran off nine straight points to regain control. The Wahoos experienced some anxious moments in the final minutes but never unraveled, and they walked off with a 74-69 victory.

“I think there were some opportunities where we could have gotten rattled,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said, “but the guys held in there … I thought there was some resiliency, and it was a good step, for sure.”

UVA will play two more ACC road games, against Clemson and North Carolina, before hosting Virginia Tech at John Paul Jones on Jan. 12. The Cavaliers’ first game of the new year was their first since a humbling loss to Clemson at JPJ, and there were clear signs of progress Saturday night.

“We’re still coming together as a team,” junior guard Armaan Franklin said. “We’re not where we want to be yet, but this is a step in the right direction for us, just coming together and battling adversity, whatever you want to call it.”

The Cavaliers (8-5 overall, 2-1 ACC) gave up 18 offensive rebounds, and the Orange (7-6, 1-2) turned them into 16 second-chance points. But UVA had only nine turnovers, came up with eight steals, and shot 52.6 percent against Syracuse’s trademark zone defense.

“We moved the ball well, and our guys were making shots,” senior point guard Kihei Clark said. “Of course that makes it easy. We got to the corners a little bit and that kind of disrupted their defense. But I think we just prepared well for them, and our guys were ready for the zone.”

Clark and Franklin scored 17 points apiece to lead the Cavaliers. Power forward Jayden Gardner, who repeatedly made plays in the middle of Syracuse’s zone, added 15 points, and redshirt sophomore center Kadin Shedrick recorded his second career double-double, totaling 12 points and 11 rebounds.

The 11 boards were a career high for Shedrick, and it “was nice to see him finish a couple [shots inside],” Bennett said. “I thought guys really served it up for him nicely when they got into the gaps off penetration and dropped some passes [to him]. So I hope that helps him, because this is new to him and we need everyone. He did a nice job for us and was crucial in many areas.”

Sophomore Reece Beekman scored only two points but had five assists, four rebounds and two steals, and freshman swingman Taine Murray came off the bench to score seven points, two of which came on a clutch runner from the baseline with 5:08 remaining.

“I thought everyone stepped up of those guys that played,” Bennett said.

Franklin, a transfer from Indiana, made two 3-pointers in the first four minutes and sank another trey early in the second half. Not since Virginia’s Nov. 23 win over Providence had Franklin more than one 3-pointer in a game, and his contribution was vital Saturday night. It was Clark, however, delivered the game’s biggest shot, hitting an NBA-length 3-pointer to put the Cavaliers up 68-72 with 3:28 remaining.

Somewhere, Ty Jerome was smiling.

“That was huge,” Bennett said of Clark’s third trey. “You saw it. It was deep. I actually was kind of looking away for a second and it went up and then I just saw the tail end of it, the ball going in. We needed that.”

Clark, who had also a game-high eight assists, is the most experienced Cavalier and the only one who’d played extensively in the Carrier Dome. Like Bennett, Clark applauded the grit Virginia displayed Saturday night, especially after a three-point play by Jimmy Boeheim, who threw down a fast-break dunk and then added a free throw to put Syracuse up 47-45.

“That was a big-time play for them,” Clark said, “but we just come down on the other end and try to get the best shot we can, and then just continue that cycle: try to get a stop and just try to get a good look on the offensive end. But obviously it helps when you can silence the crowd and kind of take momentum a little bit. I think that’s credit to our defense. When we can get stops, it kind of takes the life out of them a little bit.”

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim has two sons on his team, one of whom, Buddy, scored all of his game-high 27 points in the final 27:06 on Saturday night.

“Buddy made impossible shots,” his father said. “He’s playing one against two most of the time.”

Jimmy Boeheim contributed 18 points but missed six free throws.

“You can’t win these games if you go 2 for 8 from the foul line,” the eldest Boeheim said. “You’re not going to. I don’t normally put that on a player, but he’s my son and he needs to make those.”

RUN IT BACK: Virginia’s final game of 2021 was a Dec. 22 loss to Clemson, which romped 67-50 at John Paul Jones Arena. The teams meet again Tuesday at Littlejohn Coliseum in a 9 p.m. game that RSN will televise.

Clemson is 9-4 overall and 1-1 in ACC play. The Tigers had lost 11 in a row to the Hoos before winning at JPJ last month.

“Watch film, get back to the drawing board, try to fix our mistakes,” Clark said of how Virginia will approach the rematch. “It’s always nice to go out there and compete, and coming off of a loss obviously we want to get one back at their house. So we’ll be prepared.”

SOUND BITES: The victory was the Cavaliers’ seventh in their past eight meetings with Syracuse. UVA leads the series 11-6. Among the postgame comments in Zoom interviews:

* Clark on Virginia’s lack of turnovers: “It’s kind of a tough zone to play against if it’s your first time, but we kind of just tried to prepare as best as we could [in practices ahead of the game]. A lot of passing and just trying to be sure, but that’s a message that Coach always preaches: just trying to value the ball and value the possession, especially for us, because we’re a team that can’t make too many mistakes. So when we cut those down, we put ourselves in a better position to win.”

* Clark on Shedrick: “I thought he was great tonight. His energy and his physicality tonight, I think, really showed. I think that just goes to show you guys what he’s capable of, and we’re gonna expect that every game now coming from him.”

* Bennett on his team’s offensive execution under pressure: “Big buckets were made.”

* Bennett on his players’ poise: “They kept their composure when there were a few opportunities for them to get rattled … That’s important, to be able to say, ‘Settle down, get a stop, make a big bucket, and go from there.’ ”

* Bennett’s on the Cavaliers’ lack of turnovers: “The ball security was solid, but yet they didn’t play hesitant. That was important.”

* Franklin on Virginia’s success against Syracuse’s zone: “I think we had a good solid couple days of practice leading up to the game. Our scout team did a great job of re-enacting what their zone was gonna be like, and I think we executed well in practice, and it translated over to the game.”

* Franklin on his early 3-pointers: “It always helps when your first couple shots go down. I’ve not been shooting it well lately, but I’m not going to come out of a shooting slump by not shooting, so I gotta keep going, keep putting in the work and hope it pays off, and today it kind of did.”

* Jim Boeheim on the Hoos: “They’re a good team, and they’ll be a difficult team the rest of the way for everybody.”

* Boeheim on the Cavaliers’ recent dominance in the series: “They’ve been better than us. Tonight they were better than us. They’re very good, and they’ve been very good.”

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