By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — After his first game at the Carrier Dome, University of Virginia guard Ty Jerome marveled at the decibels generated by fans during Syracuse’s second-half run Saturday afternoon.
“It was a great environment,” said Jerome, who’s from New Rochelle, N.Y., about 260 miles southeast of this city.
Inside the storied arena was a crowd of 27,553 — the largest to witness a college basketball game in the ACC or anywhere else this season — and the volume rose to deafening levels at times as the Orange rallied for a 66-62 victory over the ninth-ranked Cavaliers.
“They were a big part of the game,” Orange head coach Jim Boeheim said of the home fans.
The Wahoos (17-5 overall, 7-3 ACC) will play in more welcoming surroundings in their next game. At 7 p.m. Monday, UVA hosts No. 6 Louisville (19-4, 7-3) at 14,623-seat John Paul Jones Arena. ESPN will televise the game.
The quick turnaround “gives you a little bit more fire, especially coming off a loss,” Virginia point guard London Perrantes said. “We have another big game ahead of us.”
Jerome said: “We can’t hang our heads. We gotta get ready for Monday.”
The `Hoos have won 74 of their past 81 games (91 percent) at JPJ, where they’re 9-2 this season. They’ve been an exceptional road team under head coach Tony Bennett, too, and they went into halftime Saturday leading 34-22.
“They were so fluid in the first half,” Boeheim said.
After intermission, however, the Cavaliers sputtered as the Orange (15-9, 7-4) gained momentum. Not until the 12:49 mark did Virginia score in the second half — on a floater by freshman guard Kyle Guy — and 24 seconds later Syracuse tied the game at 36-36 on a 3-pointer by graduate student Andrew White III.
With 11:56 left, the Orange took its first lead, at 39-36, on a deep 3-pointer by sophomore forward Tyler Lydon, and the Cavaliers played from behind the rest of the way.
In the final 75 seconds, UVA cut Syracuse’s lead to a single point once — on a Perrantes trey — and to two points twice. But White sank two free throws with 15.7 seconds left to make it 66-62, and the Orange celebrated their second straight come-from-behind win over the `Hoos.
In the Elite Eight of last year’s NCAA tournament, Syracuse rallied from 16 points down in the second half to stun Virginia 68-62 in Chicago.
“We knew that it was coming,” Perrantes said of the Orange’s second-half surge Saturday. “We knew that they were going to put up a run. We just had to be able to fight it, and we didn’t.
“They just drove the ball, obviously, and got to the rim and got to the midrange and made some tough shots.”
Against one of the nation’s best defensive teams, Syracuse shot 73.7 percent from the floor in the second half Saturday. The Orange made 4 of 6 shots from beyond the arc in the final 20 minutes.
“Those are mind-boggling numbers,” Boeheim said.
The Cavaliers held two of Syracuse’s top weapons, the 6-9 Lydon and 6-0 graduate student John Gillon, to six points apiece. Gillon was coming off a 43-point performance in which he made nine treys against NC State. But Virginia could not stop the 6-7 White or 6-6 freshman Tyus Battle, each of whom finished with 23 points.
White, who grew up in the Richmond area, graduated from the Miller School outside Charlottesville. He played at Kansas and Nebraska before transferring last year to Syracuse, where he leads the team in scoring. For Battle, who’s from Edison, N.J., the 23 points were a career high.
“In the second half, they spread us out and they attacked,” Bennett said. “Those wings are good. They’re physical, they’re tough, they can create their own [shots].”
At the other end, Virginia shot 52 percent from the floor against Syracuse’s trademark 2-3 zone in the first half. After the break, though, the Cavaliers grew tentative, and they continued to turn the ball over.
“We got a little hesitant offensively,” Jerome said. “We didn’t get stops [on defense], and we just started passing the ball around the perimeter.”
Bennett said: “We couldn’t score inside.”
On an afternoon when Virginia’s upperclassmen weren’t at their best, the play of the team’s freshmen stood out.
“They’re stepping up,” said Perrantes, who finished with 11 points.
Guy made four treys and led Virginia with 14 points. Jerome added nine points, and redshirt freshman Mamadi Diakite had eight points and four rebounds and one blocked shot.
“I thought the first-years did some good things offensively,” Bennett said.
The 6-5 Jerome has become an integral part of UVA’s rotation in recent weeks, so his play was not unexpected. But the 6-3 Guy had shot 2 for 10 from 3-point range in his previous four games, and not since Jan. 14 had he made more than two treys in a game.
Until Saturday, the 6-9 Diakite, Virginia’s most athletic big man, had not played more than nine minutes in a game since Jan. 8. He played 16 against Syracuse.
“It was great to get a lift from Mamadi,” Guy said. “We’ve always been telling him to keep his head up and be ready. If he’s not playing in one game, we’re going to need him down the road, and he showed up to perform today.”
Jerome said: “We tell him to just hang in there, because we know he’s going to be so good. He’s so athletic, and when it clicks for him mentally he’s going to be very special.”
Diakite was “really locked in,” Bennett said. “I was pleased with what he did, for not playing as much [recently], and that was good.”
All eight of Diakite’s points came in the first half, and his presence around the basket created opportunities on the perimeter for his teammates, who were 7 for 11 from beyond the arc before the break.
“I think we had to get some inside play for us to get open on the wings,” Perrantes said. “Mamadi did that in the first half, but in the second half we didn’t get too much of it.”
Against a long, tall, athletic Louisville team, Diakite figures to get more chances to help the Cavaliers. In Virginia’s 61-48 win at Louisville on Dec. 28, he totaled eight points, four rebounds and two steals in 15 minutes off the bench.
After hosting Louisville, Virginia will play seven more regular-season games before heading to Brooklyn for the ACC tournament. That closing stretch includes dates with longtime rival Virginia Tech, No. 21 Duke and No. 12 North Carolina. UVA will face the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill on Feb. 18 and then host them at JPJ nine days later.
Such is life in the ACC, where undemanding games are rare.
“I don’t think we have any,” Perrantes said.