Coming off a 17-point loss to Clemson at home, the Virginia Cavaliers pulled out a close 74-69 win over the Syracuse Orange on New Years’ Day. Senior point guard Kihei Clark led the way for the ‘Hoos with 17 points and eight assists on the evening.
The ‘Hoos started the game hot offensively as transfers Jayden Gardner and Armaan Franklin led the way early. Gardner hit a pair of floaters before Franklin found his shooting stroke to knock down two triples and give Virginia a 10-6 lead four minutes into the contest.
Kihei Clark banged home a three of his own out of the break to extend the lead. But the Orange started hitting shots as well and cut the Wahoo advantage to three by the 12-minute media timeout with the score at 15-12.
Franklin drove to the rim for a basket to put Virginia up five before Taine Murray — who entered the game for Gardner who picked up two early fouls — made his presence felt early with a corner three.
Continued stout defense from the ‘Hoos — highlighted by a forced shot clock violation that came from a Kihei Clark block on the perimeter — allowed UVA to grow a comfortable. The offense cooled down a bit but kept generating quality looks. Four points from Kody Stattmann and a floater from Taine Murray proved to be critical bench contributions as the half unfolded.
But, seven points from Buddy Boeheim in a three minute stretch brought the Orange back within five points of Virginia by the under-four timeout.
Two nearly identical touch passes from Reece Beekman to Kadin Shedrick on back-to-back possessions led to dunks on consecutive trips down the floor for the ‘Hoos.
Nonetheless, the Syracuse offense had hit its stride as Jimmy and Buddy Boeheim took over to tie the game up at 33 at the half off a buzzer-beating hook shot from Jesse Edwards.
As the second half started, the game continued to fit the trend of the Boeheim brothers dominating the Orange’s offense while Armaan Franklin and a rest Jayden Gardner led the way for the ‘Hoos. Just under six minutes into the half Virginia had pulled ahead by three — 45-42.
But, unfortunately for UVA, both Gardner and Beekman picked up their third fouls early on in the half and had to take a seat on the bench.
Fortunately, the UVA offense maintained its effectiveness as Kihei Clark thrived as a distributor. Yet, the ‘Hoos had near to no answers for the Boeheim brothers on the other ends as Buddy hit long triple after long triple and Jimmy ruled the paint to keep pace with Virginia.
Clark’s presence as the initiator against the zone proved to be critical down the stretch. The senior point guard was cool, calm, and collected offensively. On the defensive end, he locked down Syracuse’s point guard Joe Girard and even blocked a pair of his shots.
Clark helped to extend the Virginia lead out to five with just over eight minutes remaining in the game as Jayden Gardner hit a fall away jumper in the middle of the zone. Gardner’s re-emergence after coming back in the game helped to spark a 9-0 Wahoo run that put Virginia up 61-52 with 6:29 remaining.
But poor defensive rebounding and a seemingly abundance of fouls from Virginia got Syracuse back within four points with just over four and a half minutes left in the game. After Armaan Franklin hit from the midrange, another Boeheim three-ball made it a three point game.
A clutch deep three from Kihei Clark on the following possession extended the lead back out to six. But, a Reece Beekman foul on a Buddy Boeheim three sent the senior to the line where he hit two of three to make it a four-point contest with 3:18 on the clock.
A beautiful reverse layup from Clark was immediately countered by a Jesse Edwards hook shot before Gardner responded in-turn with yet another jumper from the middle of the zone. That put the score at 72-66.
Yet, as he always does, Buddy Boeheim knocked down another clutch three to make the score 72-69 with 1:14 remaining.
Down the stretch, a few big stops for the ‘Hoos and a pair of big time free throws from Kihei Clark secured the win for Virginia as the 5’9” senior proved to be bigger than the moment.
This puts UVA at 8-5 on the season and 2-1 in ACC play with an opportunity to get revenge against the Clemson team that blew the ‘Hoos out last week with a contest against the Tigers this Tuesday.