Following Syracuse’s 80-57 win over LSU earlier this week in the inaugural ACC/SEC Challenge, Orange first-year head coach Adrian Autry was singing high praise for his team’s “best team victory we’ve had so far this year.”
Autry was whistling a far different tune leaving JPJ on Saturday, telling me, “We can’t get on that plane quick enough,” after watching his team suffer a complete undressing by Virginia 84-62 in the ACC opener for both teams.
It was Syracuse’s sixth straight loss to Virginia.
Unbelievably, the 22-point shellacking wasn’t that close.
UVA built as much as a 33-point lead at 75-42 with 7:33 remaining before garbage time. Syracuse added cosmetics to the final score, outscoring the hodgepodge UVA garbage time lineup 20-9.
Whatever the scoreboard may have displayed at game’s end, this game was simply Virginia taking Syracuse to the woodshed.
The game was a nightmare of a homecoming for two local Syracuse players – Justin Taylor, who grew up in Charlottesville, and Maliq Brown, who played about 30 minutes away at Blue Ridge School and is from Culpeper.
Taylor played at St. Anne’s-Belfield before spending his final high school season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
Taylor had one three-point basket, finishing 1-of-6 from the floor, with three turnovers.
Brown had 10 points and was one of only two Syracuse players reaching double figures.
Brown said he was well prepared for what Virginia was going to be like defensively.
“I knew what to expect, but sometimes it’s just impossible to fully be ready until you’re out there on the floor,” said Brown.
We’ve heard that tune many times regarding preparing for the UVA defense.
Syracuse simply ran into a focused Virginia team Saturday that played like a well-oiled machine – executing precisely on offense and defense.
How did this Virginia team manage a mere 41 points in a dreadful loss to Wisconsin?
Time to finally turn the page on that Fort Myers fiasco and dive into what happened in Saturday’s peeling of the Orange.
This is simply a good Virginia team
OK, we know about Virginia’s ability on the defensive end of the floor. Saturday, UVA, with a precision-like offensive attack, Syracuse just had no answers.
The Orange struggled to score and appeared at least a step slow in reacting to Virginia’s ball movement.
UVA blistered the nets the entire contest, shooting above 60 percent from the floor well into the second half.
And Isaac McKneely happened.
The sharp-shooting guard from West Virginia may have finally figured out it’s OK to fire-them-up.
The UVA guard had 16 points in the first half. Syracuse had 24.
McKneely finally heard my clamoring from way up on press row about my wish to see him shoot more.
His 16 points in the opening half came on 6-of-9 shooting, 4-of-6 from behind the arc.
And some of the shots were far from wide-open looks.
That’s what good shooters do.
McKneely finished with 22 points, attempting just two shots in the final half, canning both.
But that’s OK. Presence known, and damage done.
McKneely was indeed savvy in finding some open looks, and Virginia did a decent job in getting the ball to him.
But the refreshing thing was to watch McKneely work hard to get his own shot, and take the shot, when it was clearly not that open.
In the postgame press conference, McKneely even mentioned that sometimes after the first few shots go in, he’s more comfortable shooting more.
More McKneely is better.
The two McKneely baskets in the second half were both threes and came during a devastating 25-11 UVA run that ended the game.
Reece Beekman gets the tough assignments
It’s no coincidence that Reece Beekman always draws the opponent’s best offensive player.
Saturday, it was Syracuse’s Judah Mintz, and it was a miserable afternoon in Charlottesville for Mintz, who entered the game scoring just over 20 a game, including 33 in the win over LSU.
Mintz got to the rim a few times early in the game but failed to score. His first points came with about four minutes left in the half.
His five first-half points were a team high for Syracuse, and he failed to score the remainder of the game.
Beekman made sure nothing was going to come easy for Mintz.
Occasionally a UVA big man popped out to the top of the key to help, but for most of the afternoon it was all Beekman.
Mintz was noticeably frustrated by Beekman’s pressure, twice firing up forced shots when the game was quickly escaping the Orange.
The Virginia explosive offense on display
You don’t see that subhead too often in UVA basketball stories.
But you might need to get used to it. While defense and Virginia basketball are synonymous, this year’s roster simply has too much athleticism to not take advantage of.
And UVA coach Tony Bennett will.
While the defense made things difficult for Syracuse, the offense made the difference.
The 84 points were a season-high for the Cavaliers, and had Bennett not started emptying the bench early, the 84 would have been higher.
Virginia notched season-highs for points and three-pointers made.
The Cavaliers went 12-of-21 from behind the arc (57.1%) from five different players.
UVA has offensive weapons all over the floor.
Even Tony Bennett can live with that.
Team Coverage: Virginia 84, Syracuse 62
- McKneely, hot-shooting Virginia streak past Syracuse in ACC opener, 84-62
- Reece Beekman made two 20-point-a-game scorers look silly this week
- Virginia Basketball Notebook: Rebounding! Plus, Elijah Gertrude is growing on me
- Analysis: Virginia gets Syracuse racing to fly back home after shellacking in JPJ
- Isaac McKneely, looking for his shot more, will make Virginia more lethal