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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: ACC crown is Cavaliers’

CHARLOTTESVILLE—Tony Bennett became a bit envious as he sat at a Taylor Swift concert in John Paul Jones Arena last September.

With more than 14,000 teenagers screaming at a fever pitch, the Virginia men’s basketball coach thought to himself, “I wonder if we can get it like this for a game.”

Bennett’s wishes were granted when No. 4 Syracuse visited 12th-ranked Virginia Saturday with the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season championship on the line.

In front of an energized sellout crowd of 14,593, the Cavaliers raced past the Orange 75–56 to earn their first outright regular-season ACC title in 33 years.

“I knew it was going to be electric but that crowd gives you something defensively,” Bennett said. “It was special how intense it was in there and the passion you got from it.”

Bennett said the crowd “either rivaled or surpassed” the country music superstar’s concert. It had plenty of reason to be enthusiastic.

Sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon paced the Cavaliers to their 13th straight win with 19 points, including 17 in the second half. Senior forward Akil Mitchell recorded 12 points and nine rebounds and sophomore center Mike Tobey contributed 11 points and eight boards.

It led to the Cavaliers (25–5, 16–1 ACC) winning 25 games in a season for the first time since 1994–95. They also became the second ACC team to win 16 conference games, joining the 1998–99 Duke squad that played for a national championship.

“We’re a part of history,” said sophomore guard Justin Anderson, a Westmoreland County native. “Being a part of history is a beautiful thing especially when you set the standard high. You know your record won’t be broken for a long time.”

The Cavaliers had to overcome the Orange (26–3,

13–3) who won their first 25 games, but has now dropped three of their last four.

Syracuse played the second half without standout forward Jerami Grant, who sat out because of a sore back.

But Orange veteran coach Jim Boeheim made no excuses as the Cavaliers broke a 42-all tie with a 20–5 run en route to the victory.

“I thought coming into the game, watching the tape, from what I’ve seen Virginia has been the best team in the league this year, and they proved that today,” Boeheim said. “They had a tremendous second half. I thought the first half we did about as good a job defensively as we could. The second half they hit a couple of 3s and got it going a little bit.”

The Orange used a 13–2 first-half run to take a 28–24 lead on a dunk by forward Rakeem Christmas with 1:12 left in the half.

But Anderson (11 points) responded with a key 3-pointer to pull the Cavaliers within 28–27 with 50 seconds left, and the score stayed that way until halftime.

Bennett said Anderson’s 3 was significant because the Cavaliers were 0 for 4 from behind the arc at that point. He said it’s “almost impossible” to defeat Syracuse’s vaunted 2–3 zone without connecting from deep.

“You need to take the cover off [the zone],” Bennett said, “and we did that.”

The top of the zone was shredded in the second half when the Cavaliers drained

7 of 11 3-point attempts.

Freshman point guard London Perrantes’ 3 with 8:44 remaining gave the Cavaliers a 49–42 lead and prompted Boeheim to call timeout.

On Virginia’s next possession, senior guard Joe Harris drilled another 3 to give Virginia a 52–44 advantage. The Orange drew no closer than seven points the rest of the way.

“I think we just needed to test the zone out,” Perrantes said. “We hadn’t faced it in ACC play and Coach Bennett hasn’t either we weren’t really attacking it too much. We were looking to pass the ball and then once we found out if we attack, we can start getting open looks and people started shooting the ball. It just opened it up for us and that’s how we got the lead.”

Senior walk-on Thomas Rogers got in on the act in the waning moments when he drilled a 3 from the left wing.

Virginia fans stormed the court afterward in celebration. Seniors Harris and Mitchell, both playing their final home game, brought out a ladder so the Cavaliers could cut down the nets as they soaked in the win.

Still, Bennett was cautious of enjoying the moment too much. Virginia lost three out of four games last season after a key victory over Duke and missed the NCAA tournament. The Cavaliers appear to be a lock for the Big Dance this season, but they want to make sure they stick around a while.

“You’ve got to stay hungry. You’ve got to stay humble,” Brogdon said of what the Cavaliers have learned since last year’s collapse. “You can’t get a big head regardless of what the media says, regardless of what anybody says. It’s about the next game now. We can enjoy this as a team, but now we move on and prepare for the next game.”

The Cavaliers have week off before they close the regular season with a trip to Maryland next Sunday. They’ll be the No. 1 seed in the ACC tournament, which will be held March 12–16 in Greensboro, N.C.

 

SYRACUSE (26–3)

Grant 0-3 0-0 0, Fair 4-13 5-6 13, Cooney 4-12 1-1 12, Ennis 4-11 4-5 13, Christmas 4-7 0-0 8, Gbinije 2-5 0-0 5, Hart 0-1 0-0 0, Keita 0-0 0-0 0, Roberson 2-3 1-2 5, DeRemer 0-0 0-0 0, Nassar 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 20-56 11-14 56.

 

VIRGINIA (25–5)

Tobey 5-9 1-3 11, Harris 2-10 2-4 7, Brogdon 5-12 8-8 19, Perrantes 2-3 0-0 6, Mitchell 6-8 0-1 12, Anderson 3-5 2-2 11, Frazier 0-0 0-0 0, Gill 2-5 0-1 4, Vozenilek 0-0 0-0 0, Kirven 0-0 0-0 0, Rogers 1-1 0-0 3, Atkins 1-1 0-0 2, J. Jones 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-54 13-19 75.

Halftime—Syracuse 28–27. 3-Point Goals- Syracuse 5-22 (Cooney 3-10, Gbinije 1-3, Ennis 1-3, Hart 0-1, Fair 0-5), Virginia 8-16 (Anderson 3-4, Perrantes 2-2, Rogers 1-1, Brogdon 1-3, Harris 1-6). Fouled Out—Ennis. Rebounds—Syracuse 29 (Christmas 7), Virginia 39 (Mitchell 9). Assists—Syracuse 8 (Ennis 4), Virginia 19 (Perrantes 7). Total Fouls—Syracuse 18, Virginia 13. A—14,593.

 

Taft Coghill Jr.: 540/374-5526

tcoghill@freelancestar.com

 

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