Virginia cruises by Syracuse for ACC title
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- In 1981, gas was $1.38 a gallon, the president of the United States was Ronald Reagan and Virginia had a kid named Ralph Sampson leading its basketball team.
That was also the last time the Cavaliers won the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title, finishing 13-1 in the conference.
On Saturday, in front of 14,593 fans at John Paul Jones Arena, Virginia staked its claim in the record books once again.
The No. 12 Cavaliers clinched the ACC regular-season title and the No. 1 seed in the league tournament with a 75-56 win over No. 4 Syracuse on senior day.
“I took a moment to give thanks,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said of his seniors. “I remember when those guys came in and I painted a picture to them and told them to come turn this program around.”
“When you’re a part of turning something around, it’s really special”
Senior guard Joe Harris and forward Akil Mitchell combined for 19 points in their last home game. Mitchell added nine rebounds.
The Cavaliers outscored the Orange 48-28 in the second half en route to the 19-point win.
“Virginia has been the best team in the league this year,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “They proved that today. They had a tremendous second half; I thought in the first half we played about as well defensively as we could.”
Virginia guard Malcolm Brogdon led all scorers with 19 points and has scored in double figures in all 17 conference games.
“They’ve got good balance,” Boeheim said. “We have good balance, they have great balance, but they have a little more depth coming off the bench.”
The Cavaliers (25-5, 16-1 ACC) trailed just once in the second half, when Syracuse took a 32-31 lead with 16:16 to play. Virginia answered with a bevy of 3-pointers; the Cavaliers made 8 of 16 for the game, seven in the second half.
The Cavaliers’ second-half spurt was no surprise to anyone as their sell-out crowd fueled them.
“The last time I heard it that loud in here was the Taylor Swift concert,” Bennett said with a smile. “I knew it was going to be electric. It was special how intense it was in there.”
Brogdon’s two free throws with 10:58 to play broke a 42-42 tie and sparked a 7-0 Cavalier run to give them a 49-42 lead.
The lead grew to 11 at 56-45 with 5:15 remaining as the Virginia fans started to sense that something special was happening. The Cavaliers coasted from there as Syracuse was never able to get within nine points the rest of the way.
Virginia shot 50 percent (27 of 54) while the Orange managed just 35.7 percent (20 of 56).
Guard Tyler Ennis and forward C.J. Fair led the Orange with 13 points apiece but combined to make just 8 of 24 field goal attempts.
The Orange have now lost three out of their last four games.
Virginia outrebounded the Orange 39-29 and converted 21 second-chance points on 13 offensive rebounds.
“You’ve got to offensive rebound against the zone,” Bennett said. “I thought we did that especially in the second half, and that was key.”
Syracuse led 28-27 after 20 minutes as both teams were about as even as you could get from the field. The Orange shot 42 percent while Virginia shot 43 percent.
The big advantage in the first half came on the boards as the Cavaliers outrebounded Syracuse 20-13 and totaled 11 second-chance points on nine offensive rebounds.
The Orange grabbed their largest lead of the first half at 8-3 with 15:20 to play. Virginia answered with a 9-0 run to go up 12-8 before taking their largest lead of seven with 6:40 to play. Syracuse answered with a 13-5 run to close out the half.
Mitchell led Virginia with eight points and seven rebounds in the first half.
Syracuse (26-3, 13-3) was led by Ennis, who scored nine points.
NOTES: This was the first meeting between the teams since 2008, when Syracuse topped Virginia 73-70 at the Carrier Dome. ... Virginia is the only team in the country to improve its win total in each of the past five seasons. ... Syracuse forward C.J. Fair ranks seventh in the ACC in scoring at 16.5 points per game...Virginia joins the 1998-99 Duke Blue Devils as the only ACC team to win 16 conference games. ... The 19-point loss was Syracuse’s worst of the season... Virginia senior forward Thomas Rogers made a 3-pointer on his only shot attempt of the game in the final minutes.