SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — Anthony Gill scored 17 points to lead four Virginia players in double figures and the second-ranked Cavaliers beat Syracuse 59-47 on Monday night to capture the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title for the second straight year.
This was the supreme test for the offensively challenged Orange (18-12, 9-8), who had averaged 58 points in the three previous games, two of them losses. Virginia (28-1, 16-1) entered the game leading the nation in scoring defense (50.1) and had limited three opponents — Rutgers (26), Harvard (27) and Georgia Tech (28) to fewer than 30 points.
Even without Justin Anderson, Virginia’s second-leading scorer and top outside threat — out of the lineup for the seventh straight game with a broken finger — the Cavaliers proved too much for the Orange despite a dismal start.
Mike Tobey, Malcolm Brogdon, and London Perrantes, playing with a broken nose, all scored 10 points for Virginia.
It was the final game of his college career for Syracuse center Rakeem Christmas, whose breakout season ended with 10 points and only four rebounds, well below his averages, as Virginia commanded the glass 42-20.
Trevor Cooney had 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting to lead Syracuse. Tyler Roberson had 10 points, while Michael Gbinije had just eight on 2-of-11 shooting, only the second time in conference play he hasn’t been in double figures.
The Orange had upset both then-No. 12 Louisville and Notre Dame in a six-day span, the Irish falling three spots this week to No. 12.
These Cavaliers seem to be in a different league, though. They shrugged off an absolutely miserable start and, after falling behind by 11 points 13 minutes into the game, responded like champions.
Virginia took a 23-20 halftime lead on a layup high off the glass by Perrantes in the final seconds and started the second half 7 of 9 from the field, including one 3-pointer by Evan Nolte and two by Brogdon. Tobey’s dunk of an alley-oop pass gave the Cavaliers a 40-27 lead with 15:32 left and completed a 35-12 run in 10 minutes spanning halftime.
Virginia has held opponents scoreless for 5 or more minutes 25 times this season and has limited them without a field goal for 8 or more minutes 11 times. In the first half, Syracuse gave the Cavaliers a taste of their own medicine, forcing 10 turnovers in the first 20 minutes and holding them scoreless for the opening 8:19.
But when a layup by Gill finally put the Cavaliers on the board, they only trailed 6-2 as the Orange struggled, too, against the best defense in the nation.
Christmas then keyed a seven-point run with a sky hook and short jumper, also assisting on a 3-pointer by Cooney to give Syracuse a 13-2 lead with 7:09 left as the Orange crowd roared.
Virginia closed the half on an 18-5 run.
Syracuse will not play any more games after the season finale on Saturday night at North Carolina State. Facing the impending results of an NCAA investigation of the athletic department, the school announced last month that the men’s basketball team would not take part in any of the postseason. If the NCAA agrees a one-year postseason ban is sufficient, next season’s recruits won’t be affected.
Virginia: The Cavaliers have won a school-record 11 true road games, are 12-0 away from home, and now have the best start in school history. … Virginia was limiting opponents to 35.2 percent from the field and 30.3 on 3-pointers. Syracuse finished 4 of 19 from long range.
Syracuse: The Orange were facing their third straight ranked team and fourth in five games and finished the late-season gauntlet 2-3. … In 39 years under Jim Boeheim, Syracuse has not played in the postseason only twice — 1992-93 and this year, both because of NCAA violations. … Boeheim’s worst season record is 16-13 in 1981-82, but the Orange still played in the NIT. … Boeheim’s NCAA-record 36 seasons with at least 20 wins will stay there. … Syracuse clinched its second straight NCAA attendance title. The Orange’s average home crowd (23,854) leads No. 1 Kentucky (23,525), which has one game left.
Virginia closes its regular season at No. 16 Louisville on Saturday night.
Syracuse finishes its season at North Carolina State on Saturday night.
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