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Orange Put the Squeeze on Offensively Challenged 'Hoos, Who Fail to Close Out Another Game

Game Highlights

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With 17:04 left in Saturday's overtime 63-55 home loss to Syracuse, Virginia trailed the Orange 30-23 after a dunk by Elijah Hughes. UVa's Tomas Woldetensae then sparked a 12-0 run with a 3-pointer. Virginia led, 35-30, with 12:03 left following a layup by Kihei Clark.

The Cavaliers didn't score again until 5:01 was left, on a 2-point jumper by Braxton Key that made it 37-36 UVa.

For the second straight game, the Wahoos took a five-point second-half lead in a contest it trailed. But for the second straight game, with a chance to step on their opponents' throat, they could not and lost.

Virginia scored only eight points over the final 12 minutes of regulation. At halftime, with the team down 24-20, a friend texted me and said, "We need at least 35 points in the second half to win." Based on how the Cavaliers looked in the first 20 minutes, I was thinking that would be nearly impossible. Yet, at 12:03 left, the team only needed three more points before the 10-minute mark to be on that pace.

In addition to the bookends of Woldetensae's 3 and Clark's layup, the 12-0 run included a Key 3 that he confidently stepped into and two Jay Huff baskets around the rim. For a brief period, it looked like the 'Hoos were going to pull away as they showed shades of past Tony Bennett teams, just like they did against Virginia Tech the weekend before. I was amazed with how energized the guys looked for those five minutes. My girlfriend, who hasn't watched much basketball and was attending her first game with me, even said the team looked "more determined." But then things fell apart.

The rest of the game was an offensive mess for the 'Hoos (and you can choose the meaning of "offensive"). Overall, they shot just 31.3 percent from the field and 22.6 percent beyond the arc (7 of 31). Syracuse wasn't much better, as evidenced by the fact that the game went to overtime at 43-43. When you hold a team to 43 points, you have to win that game. The Cavaliers defeated the Orange 48-34 to open the season, and I thought before this rematch that the team wouldn't be able to count on 48 being enough to win in regulation again. Turns out I was wrong, 48 would've been enough, but the team couldn't even get to that paltry mark.

The Orange shot 32.8 percent and 40 percent on 3s (12 of 30). Seven of those 3s came in the final 9:43 of the game, which includes overtime. In overtime alone, they made five triples. Joseph Girard III went 5 of 9 and led the team with 19 points, Hughes made 4 of 9 and scored 18, and Buddy Boeheim sunk 3 of 10, addng 14.

Syracuse got hot at the right time, and UVa never even warmed up. After the 3 by Key during the 12-0 run, the Wahoos didn't hit another until Mamadi Diakite knocked down one with 41 seconds left in OT when the game was all but over.

“I think there are a lot of factors when a game goes to overtime," Bennett said. "You can look at a lot of things. We had a free throw violation that took a point off the board. We missed some free throws, we didn’t get back. I always tell our guys … it’s a fine line and all those little things matter whether you don’t get a rebound that is in front of you. You can’t control missing a shot, you have to take shots and shoot them."

Even with the poor effort on offense, UVa had the last shot to win in regulation, with Clark getting a decent look at a 3, though it was deep. It shouldn't have come down to that, though -- Virginia could've won the game on free throw shooting. The Orange went 11 of 15 at the line, and UVa just 6 of 11. All of the misses were by Huff, and all came in regulation. The redshirt junior got the start and played aggressively, pacing the team with 16 points, 10 rebounds, and two blocks for his second career double-double. But those misses at the charity stripe were MASSIVE on a day in which nothing came easy on offense.

Clark played all 45 minutes and had 13 points and nine assists, going 3 for 9 on 3s, but he also recorded four turnovers. He had a few errant passes, especially in the first half as he tried to pass into the teeth of Syracuse's 2-3 zone. Huff also had four turnovers, as did Kody Stattmann (the Cavaliers had 15 total). The Australian did not have a good game after a couple of really solid outings against Virginia Tech and Boston College. He did not score and was tentative on his four misses from beyond the arc. On one occasion, his lack of confidence irked Clark, who got on him for not shooting.

Diakite recorded 13 points, eight boards, and a block. He went 5 of 13 from the field, making a couple of nice baseline jumpers. He probably could've done even more on offense. Key's string of three games scoring in double figures ceased as he put up just seven points on 3-of-11 shooting while tying a career high with 11 boards. Woldetensae was the only other 'Hoo to score, as he tallied six points on a pair of 3s. Casey Morsell went 0 for 3 from the field in only nine minutes.

Though I made an official gut feeling pick of Virginia winning by 1-5 points, right after the Boston College game I texted the same friend from earlier and said I thought we would lose to the Orange, 58-55. So though I still gave the offense too much credit with that prediction, I was semi-expecting what occurred. So how do we make sense of it? Well, to me, the BC loss is more troubling than the loss to Syracuse. The Eagles were without two of their best players, and the Wahoos' five-point lead came later in the game than it did against the Orange. That's a W you have to close out, and even in a down year, that's a game UVa shouldn't lose.

On the other hand, I figured that Syracuse would give Virginia trouble with its zone. Teams have to be able to knock down 3s against the Orange, and obviously we know the Cavaliers haven't been able to do that. In the season-opening victory at the Carrier Dome, UVa shot 40.8 percent from the field, better than Saturday, but just 16 percent from beyond the arc, worse than Saturday. So it was a bad matchup.

UVa fans should be hopeful the Cavaliers will find it easier to score against other teams that aren't as proficient on D and make it a premium to shoot well from beyond the arc. Syracuse held Virginia under 50 twice this year, but it just so happens the 'Hoos won one of those games, so fans are upset because of the loss and forgot that the team also wasn't that great in the win.

However, the loss to Boston College, plus the fact that the team just plain isn't good at shooting, doesn't bode well for what's coming up. In any game in which Virginia shoots poorly, it'll likely come down to just a few buckets here or there by either team to determine the winner. And against the ACC's better squads, it could spell even more problems for the Wahoos. It's a trying time for fans and players, but it's also time to stick together.

"There are certain things you can’t control, and that is the message," Bennett said. "Learn from it, try to control what you can control and don’t hang your head, but don’t think this is a fluke. Look at it for what it is. We have to get better, and we have to stick together. It’s easy to divide the house, but you have to be able to win together and lose together."

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