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Virginia defense leads the way in season opening win over Syracuse, 48-34

Jay Huff and Kihei Clark notch double-doubles in the win.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

It certainly wasn’t always pretty, but the No. 11 Virginia Cavaliers got off to a good start for the 2019-20 season as they went the road and picked up a 48-34 win over Syracuse. Beyond just starting the season 1-0, the win gives the Hoos a 1-0 start in the ACC right out of the gate.

Mamadi Diakite led the Cavaliers in scoring with 12 points, but Jay Huff and Kihei Clark both put up their first career double-doubles in the win. Huff scored 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting and added 12 rebounds. Clark notched 12 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to go with seven assists.

The Cavaliers shot 40.8% from the field for the game, but just 16% from beyond the arc. Virginia’s turnovers (16) were troubling, but playing a road game against an ACC foe to start the season is no small task, especially when that team plays the Syracuse 2-3 zone. Syracuse was able to take advantage when Virginia coughed it up, scoring 10 points off of turnovers.

Syracuse got on the board first thanks to a layup from Bourama Sidibe nearly two minutes into the game. Virginia would go on a 13-0 run, featuring three-pointers from Clark and first year Casey Morsell. The Orange would go on to score the next eight points to pull back within three at 13-10 with just under six minutes left in the first half. Virginia maintained a lead of at least three over the rest of the half, using timely shots from Huff and Diakite to build a 26-19 halftime lead.

Diakite led Virginia scoring in the first half, notching eight points. Fellow big man Huff was right behind him with seven, and Braxton Key added four. Clark and Morsell each had three. Once the Cavaliers were able to get the ball inside to the big men, they did a nice job of finishing and being aggressive with the ball.

Virginia shot 11-for-24 (45.8%) from the field in the first half, but only made 2-of-12 (16.7%) from three.

The first half was a story of defense. Syracuse was limited to just 19 points, shooting 25.9% from the field. The Orange only took 13 shots inside the three point arc, and went 3-for-14 outside of it. The vaunted 2-3 zone gave the inexperienced Virginia players some turnover issues as the Hoos coughed it up 10 times in the first 20 minutes.

A Huff dunk opened the second half for the Hoos, and Virginia would get another three from Clark to push the lead to 30-21. Hughes brought it within six again with a three, but Huff’s fifth basket of the game in as many attempts put the Hoos up 32-24.

Strong offensive rebounding work from Diakite and Key led to a put-back bucket with a foul for the latter. Key would convert the free throw, pushing Virginia’s advantage to 11. After another Hughes three-pointer closed the gap to eight, a Diakite jumper pushed the lead back to double-digits and the Orange wouldn’t get closer.

Defensively, Virginia was outstanding. Syracuse scored just 19 and 15 points per half, respectively (a double Tony!), playing in front of their home crowd. The Orange couldn’t get anything going, shooting 23.6% from the field and just 17.2% from three. Syracuse only turned it over nine times, but Virginia controlled the boards (47-28) and allowed just nine second chance points (most of which came late in the game).

Virginia returns home to open the season at John Paul Jones Arena on Sunday as the Hoos host James Madison at 6pm.