Hot shooting sparks 84-62 Cavalier win over Syracuse in ACC opener

By Scott Ratcliffe

Photo: UVA Athletics

Virginia second-year guard Isaac McKneely poured in a career-high 22 points, doing most of his damage from 3-point range, as the Cavaliers shot the lights out in the second half and opened up conference competition with a convincing 84-62 win over visiting Syracuse on Saturday.

The Wahoos (7-1, 1-0 ACC) connected on 12 of their 22 3-point attempts — including 8 of 12 after halftime — and cruised to their 16th-consecutive ACC-opening victory (15th under Tony Bennett).

The Orange (5-3, 0-1) battled early on, but wound up on the wrong end of a shooting barrage that blew the game open midway through the second half. UVA led by as many as 33 points, and Bennett was able to get everyone involved in the lopsided affair. Syracuse is now 3-13 against the Cavaliers since joining the ACC in 2013.

McKneely led the charge from the opening tip Saturday, knocking down a jumper in the early going before catching fire from downtown. The Poca, W.Va., native sank three triples across a stretch of less than nine minutes of game time, as the lead seesawed back and forth throughout the majority of the first half.

UVA closed the half on an 18-6 run over the final five minutes, however, with McKneely putting on a show just before the break. He buried a turnaround jumper in between Syracuse turnovers to extend the lead to 10, then made an excellent pass to Leon Bond III for a powerful flush before nailing his fourth trifecta of the the opening 20 minutes — a long 3 from the top of the key — with 30 seconds left, and the Hoos took a 37-24 advantage into the locker room.

“Once you see that first one go down, you’ve got a good feeling,” McKneely said with a grin. “And then the second one and third one, so I just kept letting them fly and they were falling, so credit to my teammates for finding me when I was open, too.”

Virginia picked up right where it left off, converting on 5 of its first 6 shots to start the half, capped by a wide-open Jacob Groves corner triple (made possible by a perfectly placed assist by Reece Beekman) just before the under-16 timeout. During the stoppage, a UVA fan won $5,000 after making a layup, a free throw, a 3-pointer and a half-court shot.

The Hoos must’ve fed off the buzz and excitement still lingering in the arena, as they scored 13 unanswered points — including an Andrew Rohde 3-ball that was followed by two more from beyond the arc by McKneely, and the lead ballooned to 27 midway through the second half.

Beekman briefly left the floor and into the tunnel with athletic trainer Ethan Saliba, but was back on the court less than a minute later to knock down a tough runner in the lane. Beekman was once again magnificent on both ends of the floor, and attributed the decisive Cavalanche to the team’s collective defensive ability.

“We just started getting stops, that’s all it really was,” said Beekman of the tide-turning flurry.

Beekman sank a 3-pointer of his own in between Taine Murray bombs to stretch the run to 25-5 and the lead to 75-42, prompting Bennett to empty his bench.

The Hoos finally came back down to Earth shooting-wise, going scoreless for a stretch of more than four minutes and missing eight-straight shot attempts, but the Orange was only able to trim the Virginia lead to 23 after scoring 10-consecutive points of their own.

UVA, which hit the 80-point mark for the third time in eight games, shot 55 percent (30 of 55) on the afternoon, 57 percent (12 for 21) from 3-point land and 80 percent (12 for 15) from the charity stripe, winning the rebounding battle, 33-27, and converting 14 SU giveaways into 18 points on the opposite end. Defensively, the Hoos recorded 8 steals and 4 blocks.

McKneely was 8 for 11 from the field and 6 for 8 from beyond the arc, pulling down 5 rebounds and dishing out 2 assists. He’s now shooting 54 percent (19 for 35) on the season from long distance.

Beekman added 13 points and a game-high 8 assists, while Rohde once again finished in double figures with 10 points on 50-percent shooting (4 for 8; 2 for 4), and Groves chipped in with 8 points and 3 boards in his fourth start (second in a row).

The Cavalier reserves enjoyed extended minutes, with Elijah Gertrude giving fans more glimpses of his leaping ability and athleticism. The true-freshman guard threw down an impressive dunk in the first half and then added a tough bucket off the glass in traffic down the stretch. In 18 minutes off the bench, Gertrude finished with 6 points (2 for 5; 0 for 1 from deep), a rebound, an assist, 2 steals and a block.

“These are two games from pulling him off the redshirt that he’s gotten great minutes,” Bennett said of Gertrude.

In addition, Murray (7 points), Bond (6 points, 6 assists) and Buchanan (6 points) each got some valuable experience in a conference setting, while Merrimack transfer Jordan Minor and walk-ons Tristan How and Bryce Walker each saw some mop-up duty as well, with How scoring his first two points of the season.

Syracuse shot 41 percent (22 for 54) for the game and just 25 percent (5 of 20) from the bonusphere, as Beekman and the Cavalier defense limited leading scorer Judah Mintz (20.4 ppg coming in) to just 5 points on 2-of-8 shooting (0 for 2 from 3). Mintz was coming off a career-high 33 points earlier in the week against LSU.

“I give high praise to Judah Mintz,” said Beekman, “he’s one of the best guards in the league.”

Notre Dame transfer JJ Starling led the Orange with 16 points, while Culpeper native Maliq Brown scored 10 off the bench.

Team Notes

Courtesy UVA Media Relations

  • Virginia opened 71st season of ACC action with its 16thstraight league opening win (15-0 under Tony Bennett)
  • Virginia is 36-35 all-time in ACC openers
  • UVA has held ACC opponents to fewer than 70 points in 43 consecutive home games
  • UVA built a 15-point lead in the first half and led 37-24 at halftime
  • Virginia is 49-1 all-time under when scoring 80 or more points (3-0 in 2023-24) under Bennett
  • UVA out-rebounded Syracuse 33-27
  • UVA shot a season-high 54.5 percent (30 of 55)
  • UVA made a season-high 12 3-pointers
  • UVA scored a season-high 84 points

Series Notes

  • UVA is 14-6 all-time against Syracuse, including a 12-2 mark in ACC action, in the series that dates to 1983-84.
  • Virginia has a six-game winning streak against the Orange
  • UVA is 6-2 vs. Syracuse at John Paul Jones Arena
  • UVA has held the Orange to 69 or fewer points in each of the last 16 meetings
  • Head coach Tony Bennett is 13-3 all-time against Syracuse

Player Notes

  • Double Figure Scorers: Isaac McKneely (22), Reece Beekman (13), Andrew Rohde (10)
  • McKneely scored 16 of his career-high 22 points in the first half
  • McKneely made a career high six 3-pointers
  • McKneely reached double figures for the 11th time
  • McKneely has made 2-plus 3-pointers in six games
  • Beekman reached double figures for the 36th time
  • Beekman (8 assists) passed Harold Deane for eighth on UVA’s all-time assist list with 472
  • Rohde reached double figures for the 30th time (2nd at UVA)
  • Ryan Dunn had four “stocks” (2 steals plus 2 blocked shots) to increase his team lead to 44 stocks
  • Elijah Gertrude recorded his first career points (6 points)
  • Dante Harris missed his second straight game with an ankle injury


The Hoos will host North Carolina Central on Tuesday at 7 p.m. (ACCNX/ESPN+) before an 11-day exam break.