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BLACKSBURG, Va. — Tied at 54 in the second half, Buddy Boeheim grabbed a defensive rebound after Nahiem Alleyne missed a pull-up jumper near the key. In his hands, Buddy had a chance to give Syracuse its first lead since 4:31 in the first half.
Buddy sized up his defender but lost control of the ball as he turned around to back down his man, and Keve Aluma ran up for the steal. Aluma threw an outlet pass to a streaking Hunter Cattoor, who threw an alley-oop for Justyn Mutts to turn the tie into a Hokies lead.
That would be the closest SU came to grabbing a road win as Virginia Tech (15-10, 7-7 Atlantic Coast) quickly went on a 13-0 run to seal a 71-59 win that ended Syracuse’s (13-12, 7-7) four-game win streak on Saturday. Head coach Jim Boeheim said the game plan centered around limiting the Hokies 3s, which he thought the Orange accomplished, but SU’s offense faltered down the stretch, allowing VT to regain a sizable lead.
“Six minutes to go … we got some good looks, had four or five pretty good looks from the 3-point line and didn’t make them,” Boeheim said. “You have to make those.”
Virginia Tech’s 42.1% 3-point mark entered the game ranked second in the country and was always going to be a cause for concern for a Syracuse zone that concedes a large amount of 3s. Frank Anselem, who averages just over 10 minutes per game, was brought in to replace Jesse Edwards, who fractured his wrist against Boston College.
The Hokies started the game 0-for-3 before Cattoor hit three straight 3s for the Hokies. Darius Maddox checked in later for Virginia Tech and found success on the wings of Syracuse’s zone, draining a 3-pointer from the right corner on his first touch of the game, before hitting two more soon after.
Boeheim said the Orange changed their usual zone rotations to try and stop the Hokies from getting open 3-pointers, opening up their defense as a result.
“The only way for us to win is to limit the 3s,” Boeheim said. “You can’t let them shoot 3s, so we expanded, which gives them the high post area, and we can win the game that way if our offense is a little better.”
Apart from the opening spell, the switch to a wider zone worked. The Hokies made seven of their 18 3-pointers in the first half but went 1-for-9 in the second half.
Despite the defensive success, Syracuse’s offense couldn’t find the consistency needed to win. With turnovers as the main culprit, a unit that had just boosted the Orange to four straight wins behind at least 10 made 3-pointers in each game struggled to find the same efficiency.
It started with Buddy under the Virginia Tech basket trying to inbound the ball when Syracuse had a two-point lead with under five minutes remaining in the first half. Jimmy Boeheim curled around a screen to the top of the arc, while the rest of the offense cut to the wings. Buddy looked for a pass, but before he could release the ball, the referee blew his whistle to call a five-second violation.
It was the start of three SU turnovers, which were followed by a missed jumper out of a timeout and then two more turnovers as the Orange were eventually held scoreless for almost four minutes in the first half. The drought helped Virginia Tech build a double-digit lead going into halftime.
“Our offense just let us down,” Boeheim said. “I thought … we could limit them a little bit offensively, and we did. But we weren’t able to capitalize on the offensive end.”
Playing in the high post, Mutts took advantage of the soft spot in Syracuse’s zone. With the forwards spread out more than usual, Mutts had ample time to choose whether to shoot or pass to a teammate and typically went to Aluma in the dunker spot down low.
Mutts finished with 12 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists, recording just the second triple-double in Virginia Tech history. But even with Mutts’ performance, VT found difficulty putting Syracuse away until the latter stages of the game.
Our offense was terrible.
Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim
When Syracuse had a chance to take the lead in the second half, it was another costly turnover that gave the Hokies easy points on the alley-oop to Mutts. On offense, the players who had powered the Orange during the four-game win streak were not the same. Cole Swider was 0-for-5 from 3 after shooting at least 60% from deep in all four wins, Buddy missed four straight 3s in the final 12 minutes of the game, and Boeheim noted Edwards’ presence was missing on ball screens, which allowed the Hokies to double the ball handler instead of sticking with Anselem.
“We had three or four opportunities late, real good looks, and didn’t make them,” Boeheim said. “And we have to make some of those at that stage.”
Saturday, SU’s offense hit a bump in the road after giving the Orange hope of a late-season run to the NCAA Tournament. But on nights like these where the defense played well but still wasn’t enough to steal must-win games, it put the onus on Syracuse’s scorers — who couldn’t deliver.
“Our offense was terrible,” Boeheim said.
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