The Conquest of Heroes
The formula for Syracuse was working. Their 2-3 zone was restricting the Cavaliers to long shots, while on the other end, Frank Howard was playing the Hero with a couple of long, contested threes and a tough two-point shot. With 7-2 Paschal Chukwu in the middle and 4 spider-armed guys between 6-5 and 6-9 surrounding him, the Orange repelled all efforts by Virginia to get inside their defense, relegating the Cavaliers to tossing the ball back out and shooting jumpers. Chukwu laid down the law from the first possession, when he stuffed Jack Salt at the rim. At the first TV time out, Syracuse was up 10-7.
Then De'Andre Hunter entered the game and changed everything. He went into the middle of the zone and challenged it. He sank a jumper then used a fake to get Chukwu off his feet and drove around the big man to attack the rim. Oshae Brissett fouled him and he sank the two free throws. Hunter went on to score eight straight for the Hoos, adding a jumper from just beyond the foul line, and another fake and drive for a layup.
Even with Hunter's heroics opening up the lane for the Hoos, The three Heroes of Syracuse kept pace with tough shots and reckless drives into the paint. The Orange went 1-on-1 until somebody hit a tough shot or got fouled. The penetration forced Virginia's big men to leave their posts, which allowed the Orange to get second and third shots. For the second straight game, UVA's opponent grabbed 19 offensive rebounds.
Basketball is "a game of runs," but in the first half of this game there were no runs, merely a back-and-forth tussle for control. The largest lead for either team was 5 after Hunter stole the ball from Howard and went all the way for a layup, cutting in front of Chukwu and shielding his shot from the shotblocker with his body for a 29-24 Virginia lead. Syracuse had led by 4 at 19-15. At the end, the Hoos carried a 29-26 lead into the locker room.
Hunter and Howard were the first half leaders with 13 and 11 points, respectively. For Syracuse, Chukwu had 9 rebounds in the half - five of them on the offensive end - and 2 blocked shots. Guy followed up with 9 points on 3-6 from the arc, while Devon Hall had 6 assists in the half and Wilkins 5 boards.
Syracuse grabbed the lead early in the second half with the same formula it had employed in the first half: offensive rebounding and contested shots. A Chukwu offensive rebound leading to a Matthew Moyer layup and an Oshae Brissett three-pointer gave the Cuse a 31-29 lead.
Losing the lead seemed to galvanize the Cavaliers' sophomore backcourt. First Kyle Guy put up a three-pointer under heavy defensive pressure from his good friend Moyer (also from Indiana) and drew the foul. His three free throws gave Virginia the lead back, then Ty Jerome took over. Trailing Devon Hall on a fast break, Jerome was able to step into a three, and he followed that one with two more in the halfcourt, each one from farther out than the one before. At the end of Jerome's barrage the Hoos were up by 8 and it felt like they were about to blow the game wide open.
Not with Jim Boeheim in the house. If you watch Syracuse often, you might notice that time after time, game after game, it will look like the Orange are about to fall like the leaves in a forest sprayed with Agent Orange - and they hit a shot and you look at the scoreboard to see them down by just six. And that's what they did for the whole second half. Virginia would go up by 8, then by 9, then by 8 and 9 again, and each time, when the Hoos had the ball with a chance to push it into double digits, the Cuse would get a stop and come down and score, and there they were down by only 4 or 6.
Until there were under four minutes left and Devon Hall hit both ends of a 1-and-1, stole the ball and challenged the Syracuse transition defense, drawing a foul. His two free throws finally gave Virginia that 10-point lead at 58-48. Tyus Battle went superhero to cut it back to 8 with 2:53 remaining, and the Orange threw on their press. Virginia struggled just to get the ball inbounds, but Wilkins snuck down to the Syracuse goal and Jerome found him with a full-court pass for a dunk. The Cavs got a stop and Guy broke the Syracuse half-court jump trap for a layup, then stole the ball and was fouled hard on a fast break layup. Only, no foul was called, but Hall was there for the offensive rebound and he was fouled, too. This one was called. Hall's free throws made it 64-50 with 1:24 to play. And that was that.
But this is Virginia-Syracuse, so you know damn well that was not that. Virginia suddenly couldn't get the ball over halfcourt against the intense Syracuse press, and when they DID get it over halfcourt, the Orange whacked Guy's arm off the ball and took it. Hoo fans the country over saw shades of Tyler Lydon mauling any Hoo getting near the Syracuse goal on a previous press. That steal combined with a couple of Devon Hall turnovers allowed the Orange to cut the lead down to 5 with thirty seconds left. Fuck.
There would be no miracle this time. Virginia was able to inbound the ball and advance it so the Orange had to foul, and the referees decided to call these fouls. Hall and Guy each drained a pair and that was that.
No, really, that was that.
Kyle Guy was the Seattle Hoo Motor Forker of the Game, an award created just for this performance. It will be awarded sparingly when a player is so tough, so driven, performing so well in so many phases of the game that he was the biggest motor forker on the floor. Guy did it this game. He dumped in 22 points despite being robbed of four free throws he earned. He was a perfect 5-5 from the line and 5-11 from the arc. His 13 second half points mirrored De'Andre Hunter's first half production, while his 3 first half treys foreshadowed Ty Jerome's 3 second half bombs. Not only did he lead the team in scoring, but he was also the Glue Hoo of the Game with a Zay-like 17 GI. His Glue points came mostly from his stellar perimeter defense. Of all Virginia's perimeter players, only Guy had consistent success keeping Frank Howard from scoring - and he was showed the way in providing real PacklineTM help defense. For stretches of the game he was forced to box out the 6-8 Matthew Moyer or the 6-9 Marek Dolezaj and did so as well as could be expected. He was truly superlative in the second half, putting on a dominant performance all over the floor. Quite an accomplishment for a player perceived by most as purely a shooter.
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