Virginia’s shooting woes continue to haunt Cavaliers in rare home loss

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Virginia’s Jay Huff elevates above the crowd for a second-half rebound (Photo by John Markon).

The 3-point line can present a team with some fabulous opportunities. It can also create heartbreak.

Virginia was more familiar with the rewards last year with sharpshooters like Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter in the lineup. They could shoot their way out of any jam.

This year’s Cavaliers have not been the beneficiaries of such wealth from beyond the arc. 

While there were other underlying factors to Virginia’s 63-55 overtime loss to Syracuse on Saturday evening at John Paul Jones Arena, nothing stood out more than the 3-point figures for both teams.

Jim Boeheim’s Orange came out firing in the extra period. Bam, bam, bam.

Elijah Hughes, followed by Joe Girard, followed by Buddy Boeheim. It was a 3-point barrage from Bonusphere, three consecutive 3-pointers in just under a minute as Syracuse bolted to a 52-45 overtime lead and left the Cavaliers in the dust.

“They hit three threes on the first three possessions,” said UVA junior forward Jay Huff. “That’s tough to come back from.”

Indeed.

If there was any lingering doubt, Boeheim, the coach’s son and the team’s best shooter, erased it with a 35-foot prayer at the end of the shot clock with 78 seconds to play. The shot more resembled a Scud missile than a 3-pointer, but it went in as a shocked Boeheim walked away with a Jordanesque shrug.

The shot made it 57-49 and left Virginia on its way to its first back-to-back losses since 2017 against ranked Duke and North Carolina teams. The Cavaliers, who looked even worse in a loss at Boston College earlier in the week, have now lost back-to-back games to unranked teams for the first time since 2016, both road losses at Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.

Syracuse, which has developed those three shooters since the two teams opened the season at the Carrier Dome, has boosted its offense. Boeheim has given the green light to that trio, and as he said afterward, in order for his team to win, they have to make those shots.

The Orange was 12 of 30 from the 3-point line (5 of 6 in overtime), with Hughes, Girard and Boeheim making all dozen of those shots for a combined 51 points.

Virginia, on the other hand, continued to struggle mightily with its offense. The Cavaliers entered the game ranked No. 347 out of 353 Division I basketball teams.

They made 7 of a season-high 31 attempts from behind the arc, 22.6 percent.

“We certainly had our chances to win but looking at the numbers, you can’t take that many,” Tony Bennett said after the loss that puts his team at 11-4, 3-2 ACC, and headed to Florida State later this week.

That many — 31 — was a lot. In fact, it was the most 3-point attempts by Virginia since 38 in an overtime loss at Virginia Tech on Feb. 10, 2018.

“[Syracuse] was literally giving it to us and you’ve got to take a couple of those,” Bennett said.

Boeheim’s patented 2-3 zone was packed even tighter than usual, daring Virginia’s perimeter guys to fire away. It proved to be a good strategy.

Point guard Kihei Clark was 3 of 9. Tomas Woldetensae was 2 of 9, one of those makes coming with less than a minute to go in overtime. Kody Stattmann, who is as up-and-down as a shaky stock, was Oh-for-4, Braxton Key was 1 of 5, Mamadi Diakite 1 of 3, Casey Morsell 0 of 1.

Stattmann and Clark were among the Wahoos who passed up the open looks from the perimeter, which didn’t set well with Bennett.

“A couple of times Kody didn’t even want to look at it, and I told Kihei you don’t have to shoot it but you have to [at least] look at it,” Bennett said. “We passed up some horse shots.”

A nearby scribe jokingly pointed out that was one letter off from being a bad word, while another said that word might have been more appropriate for UVA’s shooting.

The Cavaliers shot a season-low 31.3 percent (21 of 67) from the floor.

After opening the second half on a 15-2 run for a 35-30 lead — which included UVA’s own three consecutive 3’s from Clark, Woldetensae and Key — perhaps the Cavaliers became a little giddy with the long-range success. On their next seven straight possessions, six of those ended on missed 3-pointers.

“We got eight stops in a row, we buckled down and got some stops,” Bennett said in defense of his team’s shot choices. “We were getting inside, I think some of them were so wide open.”

Wide open would describe some of Syracuse’s shots, including Buddy Boeheim’s, which his father quipped, “We kind of diagrammed it,” Jim Boeheim smiled and rolled his eyes.

Then Boeheim confessed, “I didn’t think for a second it was going to go in. But he’s one of the best shooters in the country. We have to make shots and he’s our best shooter.”

After losing a 48-34 decision to Virginia in the season opener way back in November, the fewest points ever by a Syracuse team in the Carrier Dome, Saturday’s result was quite a turnaround. Even Boeheim couldn’t believe the outpour of points.

“We scored more points in five minutes [20 in the overtime] than we did in the second half (19),” the Hall of Fame coach said. “Maybe we should just play five-minute halves.”

Meanwhile, Bennett must find some offense going forward. The seven-foot Huff led the effort with 16 points, his most ever against an ACC opponent, and recorded his second career double-double (both against Syracuse) with 10 rebounds, but missed a glaring five free throws (2 of 7).

While it may have appeared like a night to remember for Huff, it really wasn’t.

“It’s the kind of thing that will keep you up at night,” said Huff, who revealed plans to get back in the gym Saturday night and work on his shooting touch.

He probably should bring along some friends.

Comments

  1. Sam Smith says:

    Great take Hoots! Wish the game had been as fun to see… 😉

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